CSR for the charity sector? We need a system where charities can acknowledge their wider benefits on society

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is now so part and parcel of the way most companies operate in the UK. Imagine if, similarly, every charity had a strategic goal to go beyond their core remit and support their community in some further way?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is now so part and parcel of the way most companies operate in the UK. Imagine if, similarly, every charity had a strategic goal to go beyond their core remit and support their community in some further way? 

Brexit has shown that there are huge fault lines in public values in the UK. We have also seen that British society has continued to change and diversify over the last decade, bringing with it a broader mix of cultures and a more pluralistic understanding of our national life. While diversity has the potential to bring so many positives to British society, for many 2017 was seen as a year where we were living in a ‘divided Britain’.

In November I went to NCVO’s annual Hinton lecture, where Baroness Warsi spoke of the importance of bringing more connection into our communities. She was asked what role charities can play in bringing divided communities together. Baroness Warsi stressed the importance of the simple actions that physically bring people together, such as coffee mornings, shared meals, and community gardening. 

I agree that charities are well placed to bring communities together. So how can this be achieved in practical terms? Should charities take this on as their responsibility? And how can we encourage charities to acknowledge the impact of their work in the broadest sense?

Most charities are already contributing to community cohesion
 
Many organisations are specifically working on improving community cohesion. For example, the Jo Cox Foundation 'Great Get Together' street parties in 2017 had the aim of bringing communities and neighbours together through shared meals and street parties. 

There are also so many organisations that have a side-mission of community cohesion, or where it is a ‘by-product’ of their work. For example, Foodcycle is an organisation that brings together people from all backgrounds to share a meal together, at the same time as reducing food waste and food poverty. There is also The Challenge; they deliver the National Citizens Service, where young people from all walks of life are encouraged to participate.

Another often overlooked way charities bring people together is through their campaigning and fundraising work. nfpSynergy conducted research last year with members of the public who have taken part in fundraising events. One interviewee commented that social cohesion was a by-product of taking part in fundraising events:
“we do lots of community events where people physically come and share time with each other, and I think (its) very good for social cohesion generally.”

Charities should be recognised more for the work they are doing in this area. I would love to better understand how much charities shine a light on the work they do beyond their core mission to support community cohesion and whether they set any strategic objectives in these areas. 

Lack of funding and continuing austerity means charities may find it hard to justify being seen to work outside of their core mission

The big challenge is that charities have to ultimately show that they are meeting their key strategic goals. The expectations charities’ stakeholders have for them to deliver against their mission are valid and ultimately are the priority.

A charity version of CSR could be the solution

I’m sure some critics would say that charities don’t need CSR, because the nature of their work means they are already doing enough to benefit society. However if CSR is about good citizenship then of course charities should do the same as companies, and failing to do so means falling short of their responsibilities to their staff, volunteers and to wider society.

Some decisions would need to be made on what charity CSR would look like. For example, encouraging workforce diversity, payroll giving and volunteering days for staff may all transfer well into a charity setting from the corporate world. Whereas a charity spending money to fundraise for a cause that is not it’s own may not go down well with its donors.

While every charity would need to decide what CSR would mean for them in practice, there would be value in having a universally-recognised way for charities to speak freely about their impact on community cohesion and wider society. In doing so there could be more recognition of, and support for, the role of charities in helping unite our divided Britain.

Fiona Wallace

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