When former BP Chief Executive Lord Browne, one of the earliest proponents of corporate social responsibility (CSR), declared last year that the movement was “dead”, he was not alone in his cynicism. Such has been the worrying regularity of corporate scandals that the idea of business putting purpose or society before profit had for some time been attracting a large dose of suspicion. It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that it is the emergence of more controversy – this time in the charitable sector – that has prompted a reassessment of how important the contribution of business can be to society.
The string of scandals involving not-for-profit companies during 2015 - allegations of unethical fund-raising practices, misuse of donor data and the collapse of Kids Company - raised questions in both the media and political spectrums about transparency and accountability. In particular, there were concerns about the implications of any damage to the public’s trust, with recent data showing charities had slipped to 12th place from 8th in a listed of trusted public institutions – below television and radio stations. Consequently, there have been calls for increased governance, more regulation to guide behaviour and additional scrutiny of charity trustees.
Through Deloitte’s experience of social enterprise and charity partnerships, we have learned a lot about the various and complex challenges of these organisations, and how business can make a difference. Our work with our Social Innovation Pioneers and our National Charity Partners (NCPs) has demonstrated that by providing support that goes beyond just raising money, business can play a vital role in helping charities and social enterprise increase their scale and social impact. As well as supporting them to grow their organisations in a robust and durable way.
Over the past three years we have helped our NCPs - Alzheimer’s Society, Mind and Prostate Cancer UK - to improve efficiency and processes, while at the same time increasing their reach and supporting them to grow sustainably. This has ranged from strengthening the dementia research community in the UK, informing strategy by mapping prostate cancer across the country, to helping develop a Workplace Wellbeing Index to support employers look after the mental health of their staff. Our hope is that our resources can help provide a lasting legacy for these organisations as well as their beneficiaries.
The collaboration with these NCPs shows how business can help charities to become more effective and resilient. Such support can range from developing a successful and long-term strategy, decreasing reliance on external fundraising, to making sure charities can measure the impact of different policies. By implementing these elements of good governance, charities can provide the confidence around how they are using their funds, increasing transparency to help re-build trust.
But this collaboration is of as much value to our firm as we hope it has been to our NCPs. For example, we know millennials want to work for companies that share their personal values and that they measure success in terms of more than just financial performance. This means we need to give our people and our future talent the opportunity to use their skills and knowledge with a whole range of clients, in particular with those that focus on society. Providing this breadth of experience of working with a variety of charities and social enterprises is a critical part of how we will recruit, attract and retain the best talent. Clearly, there are advantages for business in working with charities, but ultimately I believe this collaboration can also bring wider benefits to society as a whole.
During responsible business week last year I asked whether the purpose of business could be both about profit and social responsibility. Some would argue that CSR has failed in its objective to build a stronger relationship between business and society and allowed companies to promote their virtues while ignoring the important issues. But I believe our work with charities and social enterprise has shown CSR is not a one-off or a nice-to-have. At its heart, it means business finding ways to use its resources to make a positive, enduring impact that matters for society. And, crucially, helping re-build trust in charities so they can continue the much-needed support they provide to our society’s most vulnerable.