Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives can create huge value for charities and the private sector. Value is realised by well-matched partners collaborating on causes that deliver real results to third sector beneficiaries. In doing so, benefits to the local community begin to ripple out wider than the immediate activity, and the employees grow by getting involved in valuable work outside of their day job.

But like any relationship, get it wrong and you might see some value in the short term, but ultimately inaction and the frustration will lead to the relationship petering out. A massive disappointment all round for all the energy invested, and potentially damaging to the reputations of both organisations.

So, how to avoid CSR disappointment or fatigue? Having worked closely with our charity partner, delivering mentoring programmes and supporting their activities through fundraising, we think there are four simple steps that set the relationship up for success. By following these steps you are both giving your relationship a fighting chance of delivering something great to the wider community.

The first step on the journey to a successful relationship is honesty – what do you need and what can you give?

As a charity, think carefully about the areas that you need support on (not just accepting what you are offered). Is it access to business mentors? Support shaping your governance strategy? Or is it core professional skills such as training on office software packages and networking?

As a private sector partner, you need to clearly articulate what skills are core to your organisation and which you are best placed to share. Be honest with yourself about what your organisation can offer and realistic time available, and make sure that this is clearly communicated internally. Then communicate what you have to offer to potential charity partners. It’s not exactly dating…but you do need to be compatible if you want the relationship to have a long term positive impact! So be clear in early conversations about what each organisation needs and what each of you have to offer. There’s no point taking the relationship to the next level if you aren’t sure the other partner could be a good fit.

Now you have a potential partner, the next three steps are simple

Once you have defined a shared vision of the outcome of the relationship – General fundraising? Sponsorship of a specific programme? Mentoring opportunities? – then the next steps are clear:

  • Align objectives and plan: Tangible objectives, such as a fund raising target or a number of people who receive training and support, will give you a plan to achieve a joint definition of success by properly allocating responsibilities and developing a workable activity schedule.

 

  • Be prepared to be pragmatic: Situations at one or both organisations will change over the course of a relationship. The key to handling changes is strong communication. Go back to the vision and discuss whether it still fits. Adjust the vision, and/ or the associated plan, accordingly.

 

  • Communicate: Last but absolutely not least, communication is fundamental to unlocking a long term, sustainable relationship. Be sure that you make the space for quality, regular face to face catch ups. It sounds easy, but catch ups can quickly be overtaken by other priorities. Regular meetings to share ideas and thoughts on progress allow for small adjustments to be made as activity is in train – if you don’t have great communication, changes of course could feel more like U-turns, be jarring and could ultimately derail the relationship.

 

By consciously following these steps we think you will find out more about yourself, get your CSR relationship right from the start; nurture it so everyone involved is focused on the right things that can make the difference; and make sure you can say that the effort being invested is delivering real value to the community.

Gate One is proud to support young people in the Southwark area though SE1United and Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre. To learn more, contact Becci Marsden, Gate One CSR lead and the author of this piece.

Laura Fenton

Author Laura Fenton

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