Sustainability and corporate responsibility 'more aspiration than reality' in sector

A report by the agency Forster Communications says only 10 of the top 100 charities by fundraised income have named sustainability leads and 13 have staff with corporate responsibility roles

The report
The report

The notions of sustainability and corporate responsibility have "barely made a dent" in the culture of the UK’s largest fundraising charities, a new report warns.

Matching Method to Mission, published today by the agency Forster Communications, says that although the subjects are increasingly critical to organisations in the business world, they are more of "an aspiration rather than a reality" in the voluntary sector.

The report is based on research conducted by Forster in February, which attempted to identify any staff among the top 100 charities by fundraised income who had sustainability or corporate responsibility as part of their roles.

Researchers also looked at each charity website to see if there was a publicly available report on sustainability performance.

They found that only 10 of the top 100 had named sustainability leads, and 13 had employees whose roles involved elements of corporate responsibility.

Only two of the 100 charities – Cancer Research UK and the RNLI – had publicly available corporate responsibility reports.

"Clearly, the disciplines of sustainability and corporate responsibility have barely made a dent in the cultures of the largest charities in the UK," the report says.

"While they all signal a myriad of standards, frameworks and membership bodies they are part of, very few of the top 100 fundraising charities have any named person or plan that covers all aspects of how they deliver their work and the impact it has socially and environmentally."

It adds: "In all cases, corporate responsibility, if mentioned, referred to the businesses charities work with, but not to the charities themselves."

The report suggests nine ways in which charities can ensure their methods match their mission, including stepping back regularly to consider the bigger picture of how the charity is operating, giving staff the opportunity to raise concerns and being transparent about what the organisation does and how it does it.

Katie Buchanan, head of sustainability at Virgin Media, says in the report that charities are "in danger of falling behind the progressive business community" and making it harder for themselves to strike up partnerships with companies.

"As more businesses become purpose-driven, a sense of mission is being driven from the boardroom so business is run in the right way," she says.

"Social sector organisations need to give the same attention to how they conduct themselves otherwise they might find it difficult, if not impossible, to find progressive businesses to build long-term, sustainable and productive partnerships with.

"Ultimately, charities don’t have a monopoly on creating social change and businesses may choose to take on social issues without them."

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