Fitting in with business culture generally, corporate responsibility and community affairs managers – relatively new types of management – increasingly seek a performance driven approach to their specialist area of work.
A growing proportion of corporates are assessing their charitable activities – and more than 220 companies globally use LBG, the global standard for measuring their corporate community investment, to effectively measure their community investment and better manage their programs by understanding what their contributions achieve in society.
However, this can fly in the face of public perception and senior management thinking, that the sum total of giving should be of the charitable or philanthropic kind. Coming to corporate giving with a “charitable” mind-set is particularly common in the USA where the traditions of pure philanthropy are very strong.
This context can raise barriers for community affairs managers that have a professional approach to corporate giving and community investment in the choice of projects senior managers and corporate leaders will often want to support. It is not uncommon for companies wanting to show they are not just profit driven, but are compassionate and giving back, to enter into high profile projects that tug at senior managements’ heart strings. This is understandable and there are many charities that will seek to gratify these impulses, pitching an endless supply of worthy projects to be supported, but such mismatched partnerships will not deliver the desired social changes.
All too often senior managers see corporate giving as the same as the giving by private individuals and private foundations, and it is not. Companies have a very different relationship to the wider society, with distinctive responsibilities that come from being a corporate entity and corporate citizen not a private person or philanthropist. Bill and Melinda Gates can support what ever they like through the work of their excellent Foundation which has done so much to combat disease in the developing world; but Microsoft, from where the money originally came, has to have a different social agenda because of its very nature as a company – and indeed it has.
Corporate giving and community involvement should be an expression of corporate responsibility driven by the identity, special risks and opportunities the company faces in society. It would be unthinkable for Microsoft to be working on the urgent major health and social problems that face the elderly for example, and not be doing work on access to technology and communications. Why? Because technology issues are in the very DNA of the company – it knows about them, and what it knows about the needs of the elderly is anybody’s guess; but it is uniquely placed to do something about access to technology which is an issue so vital in the modern world.
Unlike private foundations, companies can give more than cash; they can give their expertise and products and it is logical that they should be deployed to maximise society’s benefit. So by being strategic, as expected from all other areas of corporate performance, companies should choose to work in areas of social need and specific geographies where they can make the biggest and most appropriate difference. Areas where they have a special capacity to tackle social issues despite that these may well not be the heart wrenching ones or the local communities that the public or senior management warm to.
Corporate community involvement can be low key and long term with impacts that are hard to see. That is why they need to be carefully measured and explained. Community affairs mangers need to persist with measurement frameworks like LBG to help them explain to both internal and external audiences that their company is a good corporate citizen if not a high profile one. Charity is a good thing but so are social investment and many commercial and “shared value” initiatives. They all in their own way address society’s diverse problems using the core identity and resources of the business, and that says a great deal more about the values and sense of responsibility of the business over time; even if the work done can seem a bit mundane, does not immediately tug at the heart strings and won’t make easy headlines.
David Logan is a Co-founder and Director at Corporate Citizenship. He has more than 35 years’ experience of working with businesses to develop their corporate community investment activities.
Corporate Citizenship manages LBG – the global standard for measuring corporate community investment. To find out more about how you can use the LBG framework to effectively measure corporate community investment and its impact, as done by 220 companies around the globe, visit the LBG website.
Suggested further reading: Hard Outcomes or Hollow Promises: Realising the True Impact of Corporate Community Investment Corporate Citizenship’s new report which helps companies to close the impact-aspiration gap by overcoming challenges and barriers to measurement.