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CSR, corporate philanthropy and scepticism


Businesses are just as much a part of society as the people that live in our communities. So why is ‘corporate philanthropy’ often viewed with scepticism? And in calling for policies that ‘put people before profit’, are campaigners in danger of overlooking the important role that wealth creation plays in a stable society?

Recently, a children’s football club in Blackpool was attacked on social media after it emerged that it had accepted a donation from the shale gas explorer Cuadrilla Resources.

Regardless of your views about the rights and wrongs of ‘fracking’, and whether you believe it will unleash climate-change Armageddon or is actually part of the solution (as former Greenpeace director and climate campaigner, Stephen Tindale, is reported to have told a pro-fracking gathering in Blackpool recently), the very public attacks on Layton Juniors were unnecessary and unjustified.

The wider problem, however, is that the behaviour exhibited towards both the donor and the recipient in this case could very easily deter other well-meaning companies from engaging in community initiatives, concerned that there may be a backlash in some quarters.

At a time of continuing public spending cuts, and less financial support being available to third sector organisations as a result, the very last thing society needs right now is for private sector funding to dry-up too. In fact, we should be positively encouraging businesses to do more to support the communities in which they operate.

CSR and corporate philanthropy

Corporate philanthropy – donating money to worthy causes – is often linked to a company’s pursuit of its Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR policies.

In truth, socially and environmentally responsible business is about much more than just charitable giving, but the importance of lending financial support to local causes shouldn’t be overlooked.

This blog discusses the need for third sector non-profit organisations to diversify their funding streams in response to changing conditions.

Tapping into funds that businesses might have available is clearly viewed as being a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

Which is why it’s a real shame when sections of society come to view genuine corporate philanthropy as anything other than a real attempt at making a difference, because companies and communities depend on one another in multiple ways: for instance, businesses need a workforce in order to function and they need customers to buy their goods and services; likewise, people in our communities need the jobs that businesses can provide.

See also: The perils of ‘greenwashing’

Putting people before profit?

It’s a maxim that is regularly articulated on social media – often alongside the suggestion that all businesses are untrustworthy and greedy.

And yet it’s probably fair to say the exact opposite is true.

The vast majority of businesses in the UK consist of fewer than 10 employees and are typically owner managed by people that simply want to earn a decent living doing something they enjoy or have a talent for. There are actually comparatively few of the corporate behemoths (less than 1% of all businesses) that we occasionally hear of getting embroiled in scandal.

Without the profit, there is simply no way that people can be put first by this army of micro and small businesses.

Generating healthy profits is what enables SME businesses to invest in staff training and development, and to pay decent incomes. Corporation Tax paid on those profits contributes to the £40bn a year raised this way to fund the nations’ vital public services.

In fact, looking after your people, making sure they earn a fair wage, paying the right taxes – on time, and in full – are the very essence of responsible business. But it’s not possible without earning a profit, and nor is corporate giving to needy causes.

Tips for businesses that want to give

1. Don’t be put off

Don’t let negative media comment and so-called ‘clicktivism’ directed at others deter you from supporting local causes if it’s something you feel strongly about.

2. Do it for the right reasons

There’s nothing wrong with generating positive publicity to showcase the efforts you’re making in support of your local community, especially as it may inspire others to follow your lead. Just make sure that it’s really about making a difference and not just PR.

3. Form a lasting association

One-off donations are always going to be welcomed by local third sector organisations, but you might find that they’d benefit more from longer-term support. And remember, you needn’t limit your role to just financial help – it’s worth exploring volunteering opportunities, sharing some of your business skill set and other ways to deliver greater value through closer partnership.

Business can be a powerful force for good and we shouldn’t forget that.

What did you think of this article? Do you agree with it? Why not tell us in the comments and share it on social media if you think others might also find it interesting!

One Comment

  • Simon Owen says:

    An interesting subject and a tough one to write about – hats off for taking it on!

    It is so tricky as there seems to be a fine line between genuine CSR and cynical CSR. Cuadrilla are in a nightmare position being a very controversial company engaged in a deeply unpopular activity so there is going to be a large number of people who find any action of theirs except shutting their operation down distasteful. Possibly while drinking a Starbucks coffee while listening to a CD bought from Amazon and using their Kindle Fire to complain about it.

    I guess it boils down to whether it feels like dirty money to the recipient and if there is actually a risk to accepting the gift. On the other hand is the recipient able to turn it to their, and the donors advantage? While “Outraged of the Internet” may not feel it is acceptable for a charity or community group to accept the funds, will they be willing to step up themselves? Whatever happens the recipient will be able to do good with the support and while so much is profit orientated we need more good to be done, whoever does it and how.

    It is an endless discussion and no doubt we’ll see some “interesting” in both the dictionary and Chinese insult definition of the word arise in the future.

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