Businesses with Passion, Soul: Encouraging CSR in a post-Covid World

Tess Mackean, CEO, talenTtrust

By Tess Mackean

It’s now been more than a year since we first heard about a mysterious new illness spreading in China. In that time, the way we live, work and play has been transformed. The non-profit sector has been hit hard as the economic fallout has reduced individual donations, yet the number of vulnerable people in need of charity’s services has gone up. Amongst all the transformation that has resulted from Covid-19, corporate volunteering is one that will look different as we continue towards economic recovery.

Like many others, the non-profit sector has been forced to adapt and innovate in order to survive. Volunteerism has, therefore, also taken a different form. In-person service has given way to a remote, more tech-focused model, necessitated by safe-distancing measures. Some have discovered skills-based volunteerism, a type of volunteering where people lend their specific business skills and expertise to a charity.

Unlike traditional service-based volunteering, skills-based volunteering can be delivered online, via one-to-one advisory sessions. The rise of more flexible working arrangements in the corporate sector has allowed business people to give more time and help at a strategic level.  Done correctly, skills-based volunteering can be a meaningful, high-impact and efficient way to volunteer one’s time; for these reasons, its popularity seems likely to increase, even after the pandemic restrictions have lifted.

MNCs and SMEs: differences in attitudes towards CSR

It goes without saying that MNCs tend to have greater availability of resources and greater power to mobilise partners in multi-group initiatives. With formidable resources and dedicated teams, they’re able to experiment a little more by trying a few different activities or supporting several partners. They can afford to take the time to refine their programmes over time to achieve the greatest impact.

For smaller organisations, any employees allocated to CSR projects may be doing so in addition to their day job. Their inclination may be to engage in one or two activities and really get it right. They may also view volunteerism as an opportunity to develop the soft skills of their employees, maximising the impact of the work.

Ultimately, there is overlap in the attitudes towards CSR held by MNCs and SMEs. Largely speaking, everyone who engages in CSR is working to make an impact and give back to society. Some have it embedded into the heart of their corporate mission and others are dipping their toes in for the first time, but both are benefitting society.

Enthusiasm is driven by the leadership team

There are many factors that determine a company’s attitude towards CSR. If a passionate leader sets it as a strategic priority and embeds it within the fabric of the organisation, then responsibility for its execution will cascade down. Get it right, please the boss.

Others may approach it with less enthusiasm and out of a sense of obligation. CSR is still a relatively new concept so some organisations may still be experimenting with programmes to explore how they will benefit them in the longer-term, which would ultimately warrant continued investment of time and resources.

At the peak of enthusiasm, CSR converts will speak of the wider benefits to the organisation: improved employee retention, increased attractiveness to potential recruits, the development of soft skills and empathetic leadership amongst volunteers as well as good brand credibility.

Challenges in incorporating CSR into business strategies

Many of the best CSR initiatives can be hampered if a company has not made it a priority. CSR budgets are one of the first to be cut and, unless driven by a committed leader or decision maker, this loss of funding and momentum can be a CSR programme’s downfall when other corporate pressures arise.

However, with the right leader and internal advocate, the question turns from prioritisation to resourcing: namely how much time and resource a company is willing and able to devote.

For smaller businesses, the key is to be realistic about what they want to achieve and why. Taking time to determine a clear strategy and ensure its alignment to company values will result in far greater success down the line. They should assess their goals, internal capacity and constraints. Do they want to start small and quick with a one-off employee volunteering day or do they take a slow and steady approach and develop longer-term, more strategic community partners? Good CSR takes a lot of research, organisation and measurement, which can be resource-heavy but when done right, a clear strategy can help fast-track the organisation to success and minimise resource requirements.

For larger organisations without a dedicated CSR team, there is a risk that employees who are double-hatting get pulled in different directions. Navigating this retention of focus even as business pressures mount, requires a clear mandate from the highest level to drive and prioritise CSR throughout the good times and bad. When viewed as a long-term, strategic piece of work, effective CSR can make a substantial contribution to a larger organisation’s ongoing success.

A shortage of resources doesn’t have to mean a shortage of opportunity. Regardless of the company’s size, they should play on their unique strengths as an organisation, choose one activity and do it well. If they engage in activities that are already their bread and butter and which they can execute with ease, CSR is more likely to be sustainable.

By Tess Mackean is the CEO at talenTtrust