These days, most companies love to talk about their commitment to CSR, with glossy brochures boasting about their all-singing, all-dancing policies. But often this translates into initiatives that leave employees cold (particularly if they involve turning the thermostat down by a degree). So we were interested to hear about Hertfordshire-based Get CSR Connected, a social enterprise that tries to help businesses get involved with volunteering opportunities in their local area. Not only do you make a visible and tangible difference, but you can boost your reputation and increase staff engagement at the same time. That’s a lot more valuable than an energy-saving certificate…
GCC founder Nicci Statham says she started the business after noticing that many firms’ CSR attempts weren’t impacting on their local community. The problem, she realised, was that no mechanism existed to connect businesses with local volunteering projects. Statham saw the need for a middleman between businesses, which are used to thinking in terms of returns, and not-for-profit organisations, which, er, aren’t (financially speaking, anyway). ‘They’re such different worlds,’ she tells MT. ‘When you’ve got a company like Tesco going into a school, they work in completely separate ways. Their priorities are completely different.’
Statham decided one of the best ways to encourage businesses to work in their local community was by selling it as a team-building exercise. Who needs that awkward drinking session with their boss when they can be helping a local school repair its playground instead? Depending on the size (and levels of enthusiasm) of the team, businesses can do anything from helping a special needs school build its own climbing wall to jazzing up outbuildings. A local park even invited a group of unemployed people to experience the excitement of publicly funded horticulture for themselves, shadowing some of its workers (as MT’s Sharp End did once).
One of GCC’s key aims is to create an enduring relationship between the businesses and the projects – so ultimately, it can leave them to it. But that means making sure both sides are getting what they expected out of the partnership. ‘We speak to them and try to identify exactly what they want out of it; then we do pre-visits so they feel connected to the project from the start,’ says Statham.
GCC’s clients include the likes of Tesco, but the challenge now is to get small businesses involved too. ‘Every company has local customers and employs local people. It’s in their interests to participate.’ And the good news is that an increasing number of people are encouraging their companies to get involved. ‘More and more people want to do their bit, both professionally and personally’.
Because team-members are so actively involved in GCC’s projects, ‘they really feel the difference that they’re making,’ explains Statham. So not only is your CSR policy having a tangible effect, but your staff feel more engaged too. Everyone’s a winner…
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Helping businesses walk the walk on CSR