Corporate social responsibility is becoming of ever increasing importance.
The UK has the world's first minister for CSR and organisations are being asked to explain the social and environmental impact of their activities.
New research from the Social Market Foundation shows it is a powerful force. Some 82 per cent of consumers prefer to support firms that are responsible, while a quarter would pay more for ethical options.
The private sector is well aware of this and ahead of the game. Most big firms now employ consultants to set up and promote their responsible activities. There is a business case too, which argues that responsible companies attract the growing band of ethical consumers and recruit the best employees.
This latter part of the case should make the voluntary sector sit up and pay attention. No longer can organisations that exist for public benefit lay sole claim to meeting employees' altruistic desires. Many private-sector staff are being given time off to volunteer and their donations to charities are being matched. Unless the voluntary sector embraces CSR, especially in recruitment, then idealistic job seekers may realise they can pursue both profit and principles elsewhere.
Some might argue that jumping on the bandwagon is a diversion from a charity's mission, but CSR need not imply extra budgetary strain. Being a responsible organisation could include choosing suppliers that meet higher ethical standards, setting up proper recycling facilities and targeting recruitment across disadvantaged parts of society. Taking social and environmental responsibilities seriously is not a luxury confined to the private sector. It should be standard practice across the board, profit or non-profit. Beth Breeze is deputy director of the Social Market Foundation