Monday 2 December 2019 4:53 am

No, your CEO can’t come paint our office: The 4 golden rules for CSR

Two years ago, I launched Beam, a tech-for-good startup that crowdfunds employment training for homeless people and supports them into stable, paid work. 

Ever since we started to gain visibility, a number of brands have approached us with different propositions for demonstrating their corporate social responsibility (CSR) agendas.

To paint a picture of what these approaches are like, the other day someone from a multi-billion dollar company got in touch to ask if their board could paint our office. They wanted some photos of their top brass in action. 

Moving on briefly from the fact that many startups like us work from coworking spaces, I wanted to reply: “Nothing will make your employees laugh harder than the sight of their chief executive stuck up a ladder with a paint roller.”


This is CSR that was stale as old biscuits 10 years ago. So why do companies still revert back to it? 

With this in mind, here are my four pieces of advice for companies looking to partner with charitable organisations, especially in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year.

Collaborate

True CSR requires collaboration. It shouldn’t start with a ready-baked idea where charities and social enterprises only have the option to say yes or no. 

It’s great to come with ideas. But also prepare to be challenged if what you suggest doesn’t align with an organisation’s current, urgent needs. 

The right CSR will benefit your company in all kinds of ways. But if it’s benefiting the giver more than the receiver, ask yourself if that’s the CSR you really should be doing.

Play to your strengths

Rethink your “annual volunteering day”. Would you want someone that you haven’t even interviewed working at your business for a day a year? The coordination costs alone would be a huge time suck. The same is true for a charity or social enterprise. 

Instead, why not leverage the skills within your own team? 


For instance, Beam has long received pro-bono support from global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. Its lawyers could help in various ways, but it has the greatest impact by focusing on its core expertise of providing legal advice.  

And in the unlikely event that your company doesn’t have any relevant skills, it may sound crass, but often the smartest thing to do is actually pretty simple: write a cheque. 

Measure your impact

Think again if the organisation that you’re supporting can’t measure its impact or the impact that you’re having together. How else can you build a lasting partnership to deliver growing value for the organisation you’ve chosen to support? 

Your company can’t celebrate progress without knowing its financial numbers. Nor can you logically pat yourself on the back for CSR if you’re not measuring your impact. 

So don’t give your charity partner lots of extra work that will cost them time and money, but make sure at least a couple of basic key performance indicators will be actively measured and worked on.

Don’t waste people’s time

Many charities and social enterprises accept volunteering offers because they think that they’ll lead to what they usually desperately need: cash to pay their team. If you won’t donate, tell them upfront. If you might, estimate a range at the earliest opportunity. 

Provide realistic timelines, and stick to them as you would for a client: they may be relying on those funds to deliver critical services. You need to prioritise your time, and so do they. 

So these are my four golden rules for CSR. What have I missed?

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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