How business can benefit from the rise of human social responsibility

In the early 2000’s, corporate social responsibility (CSR) was seldom discussed by business leaders, with Unilever very much paving the way, explicitly highlighting its CSR activity and its impact.

In fact, during 1999 and 2000, nine Unilever companies tested a framework to evaluate and manage their performance in CSR. Fast forward to 2020, the world is enduring a global pandemic and a strong, clearly defined CSR policy is now an absolute must for both large organisations and budding start-ups looking to withstand the downturn and come out on top.

Here, Philip Webb founder and managing director of Investors in Community, explores how organisations can go beyond the traditional forms of CSR – that can feel irrelevant to employees – and embrace the new age of Human Social Responsibility (HSR), to improve the bottom line, promote staff engagement and genuinely help the wider community.

The Psychology of Online Giving survey, commissioned by software firm Blackbaud before the Covid-19 outbreak, asked over two thousand UK consumers their motivations for giving online. Of those surveyed, nearly three quarters had donated money to charity via an online platform at least once – demonstrating how as a nation there is a clear appetite to engage in altruistic giving.

The results demonstrated a wide range of motivations behind this giving, with 27per cent looking to support a friend or family member, 23per cent feeling motivated by a particular campaign or cause, 19 per cent giving because of a personal connection to a cause and 10 per cent donating to boost their own sense of self-worth.

Now, we are witnessing incredible fundraising efforts, from Captain Tom Moore’s ‘100th birthday walk’ to the ‘Run for Heroes’ campaign, giving clearly remains a priority for a vast majority of the population.

But as a business, it can be difficult to know how best to harness this and make a real impact on your local community. For larger organisations, employing thousands of people, CSR can be seen as a mere box-ticking exercise and is often an afterthought when it comes to planning or budgeting. Small to medium-sized businesses often feel put off by the word ‘corporate’, with many concluding they are simply not big enough to require a formal ‘giving policy’.

In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth, as before buying your product or procuring your services, consumers will have made assumptions around your ethics as a company and employer.

Businesses who have embraced the rise of HSR and invested in giving policies are far more likely to see an increase in profit margins and better staff retention, Unilever being a notable example. Following the implementation of its Sustainable Living Plan, the business noticed a steep rise in profits. Paul Polman, then Unilever CEO, said in 2015: “In a volatile world of growing social inequality, rising population, development challenges and climate change, the need for businesses to adapt is clear, as are the benefits and opportunities. This calls for a transformational approach across the whole value chain if we are to continue to grow.”

As Unilever recognised, both consumers and employees want to see a clear commitment to more responsible ways of working – at every level of the supply chain.

Robust giving policies will not only help boost your brand, but there is also significant evidence to suggest that more sustainable and community orientated ways of working can boost the chance of securing future investment. Richard Howitt, strategic adviser on corporate responsibility and sustainability recently highlighted how European developments like the sustainable finance action plan and taxonomy for sustainable activities, are fundamentally challenging existing notions of ‘fiduciary duty’ –  indicating a change of mindset across the whole investment world.

For businesses, this charitable giving can mean far more than one off monetary donations. It is increasingly common for organisations to grant an additional day of leave – allowing their employees to take part in volunteering or get involved with a community projects when normality resumes. Depending on the nature of your business, you could consider offering your expertise to a charity who would otherwise have struggled to afford your services.

Through new technologies, businesses are able to implement giving policies that are just as robust and effective as the more traditional – but arguably outdated – corporate social responsibility strategies. This can offer your team a route to giving back to the local community and boosting morale amongst colleagues. For a business perspective, it also makes a lot of sense as you are able to clearly demonstrate the social awareness of your organisation, helping to drive sales.

With this in mind, there is clear evidence that a strong giving policy can generate a positive impact on both the bottom line and your overall reputation. Embracing this new age of HSR can help build tangible and effective giving mechanisms, empower your team to make a real difference and ultimately help strengthen your brand.

Investors in Community is an online platform designed to help businesses engage, fulfil, manage and promote their Corporate Social Responsibility activities. The platform is always free for charities, but as Covid-19 continues to impact fundraising and volunteer resources, Investors in Community has committed to waive its fee and offer onboarding support for businesses too. Find out more about Investors in Community here.