More and more businesses are waking up to the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Why? Because, today’s conscious consumers want to know that the brands they buy from share their ethical conscience.

In fact, 55% of global online consumers say they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact, according to a study by Nielsen.

Embedding CSR

This is an undeniable opportunity for charities to forge partnerships and become an integral part of corporate responsibility strategies. Yet in my experience, too many companies see CSR, or CR as it is increasingly becoming known, as an opportunity to boost their fortunes, and stop there. Too few consider how they can incorporate its principles in the way they procure, outsource and deliver services. 

When approached more holistically, embedding corporate responsibility throughout all that you do can significantly increase the social good that you deliver, creating a trickle-down effect that doesn’t stop at the services you deliver. 

Bridging the sector gap

According to Myra Hagan of social change consultants Joining Vision and Action, the lines between the private and voluntary sectors are continuing to blur:

Corporations can no longer get by on providing consumer goods and creating economic opportunities while non-profits cannot provide innovative solutions to socioeconomic and environmental problems without funding. Through the haze it would seem that social enterprises are emerging as the bridge across this gap. Creating a product that’s central focus is built on making change to solve social problems makes social responsibility the business model, not an afterthought.

I couldn’t agree more. When I founded Connect Assist, a business built on social enterprise principles, it was to provide a solution to the voluntary sector. In fact, it was born out of my own frustration as a charity leader at being unable to outsource our helpline services to a provider who shared our values around delivering social benefit. 

By embracing digital innovation and adapting to the changing needs of the sector, we have built a sustainable business that is a significant contributor to the economy in South Wales – a region scarred by years of under-investment and social deprivation. We have also created meaningful job opportunities in an area hard hit by the last recession and where fulfilling opportunities are scarce. Half our employees joined us following a period of unemployment, and almost a quarter have long term health conditions – this experience has proved invaluable to the helplines we run.

Ingrain CSR for success

Corporate responsibility isn’t something we do to tick boxes – rather, ingraining it into all that we do has been the bedrock of our organisation. We work hard to actively minimise adverse environmental and social effects caused by our activities or service delivery, and we have managed to build a thriving business.

CR is so much more than a buzzword; it’s a way of doing business that can – and does – improve the lives of those it serves and employs, day in day out. 

Think corporate responsibility

Consider how your organisation procures services. Do you actively demand CSR principles (with robust supporting evidence) from your suppliers? If you don’t, you’re missing out on many opportunities to super-charge the social benefits you deliver. So next time you’re preparing a tender, or interviewing prospective consultants, consider the questions you ask, and think about how they could help you in your overall mission to change society for the better. It could lead to some very different conversations, and to some very different – and pleasantly unexpected – results.

This blog was written for NCVO in 2017