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What is corporate social responsibility? The diverse ways your organisation could be 'giving something back'

According to the CIPD, CSR is a broad and far-reaching concept – the "impact an organisation makes on society, the environment and the economy".

A strategically embedded programme recognises the importance of corporate social responsibility across all touchpoints of the business:

  • Workplace – how can we best look after employees/potential employees?
  • Services/products – are they compliant, fair and ethical?
  • Environment – how can we minimise our impact?
  • Community – how can we contribute positively to society?

CSR no doubt offers that 'feel good' factor, but it can also bring real business benefits, encouraging customer loyalty, staff retention and brand awareness. For instance, Ninety per cent of employees who work at companies with a strong sense of purpose say they're more inspired, motivated, and loyal.

Successful CSR initiatives often make the most of an organisation's assets or experience. They may include:

  • Donating services or products – such as a marketing agency helping a charity publicise its events
  • Giving space for charities and community groups to meet or equipment to support them to run efficiently
  • Offering internships to those who may be struggling to get into work
  • Taking steps to 'go green' to show that you care about your impact on others

Best Companies founder and CEO, Jonathan Austin, appreciates that the past few years have been challenging for organisations, particularly regarding fundraising and volunteering. But he's encouraged that organisations surveyed by Best Companies are still keeping a "high focus" on CSR.

So, what is CSR to those organisations who received a Best Companies' Giving Something Back' special award? As panellists during our November Best Companies Live event, they shared what's working for them and their communities.

1. Empower your employees to choose the CSR direction

One hundred per cent of RocketMill's staff believe the company has a strong social conscience. CEO Tom Byrne is proud of the digital marketing agency's integrated plan for giving something back – one that links culture, fairness and altruism.

The company is on a mission to save an area of rainforest the size of Brighton and Hove- where the company started – donating to the World Land Trust for every key event, from a new hire to winning a new client.

This was a "grass roots-oriented" initiative, says Tom. "The leadership team gave the space and the budget. We're an enablement vehicle. The team decided what we do with it. We like to pick a lane, focus on one thing and focus our investment in that."

At Kingsley Napley LLP, staff get to choose the charity the law firm supports. Sometimes the causes can be deeply personal.

"Every two years, we ask our staff to nominate and vote for a charity. We want it to have a special connection to people who work for us and with us," says Head of HR Victoria Tavener. "PAPYRUS was chosen because we sadly lost a much-loved firm member to suicide. It impacted us all. PAPYRUS was there for our people when we needed it most, and it's amazing for us to support the charity now."

2. Look for opportunities where you can make real impact

"We're not a big company, and we wanted to work with a charity where we could make a noticeable impact", says Jane Ainsworth, MD of public relations agency WPR.

She took inspiration from her commute through Ladywood – a deprived area of Birmingham where 54 per cent of children live in poverty. She appreciates how a little can go a long way when you support people on the ground already working to make things better.

"The Ladywood Community Project is run by two to three part-time volunteers. They understand the community really well, so they know how we can practically help, and every penny goes directly to the community.

"The vast majority of people who move to Ladywood do so because of homelessness, and moving to a new home means moving children to a new school and buying new uniforms. And that's why one of our Ladywood initiatives this year was to pay for 30 children's school uniforms."

3. Make the most of your assets

"We have 100 thousand bees on our office roof," says Carmel Chambers, Executive Director of Resources at Stockport Homes.

The initiative, which sees staff volunteer to look after two hives of bees, harvest the honey, buy it and donate it to charity, is one way the organisation is delivering on its environmental commitments. "We're giving messages about the green agenda and turning them into messages for the community, as well as serving them with perfect local produce."

And the 'giving something back' approach is not limited to the roof, with Stockport Homes also running a social enterprise café. It aims to be a place where local people can relax and find employment.

"We've really created a hub", says Carmel. "That was part of the vision for our new head office. As well as being environmentally sustainable, we serve some of the most vulnerable customers in our society. We wanted them to have a safe place, a home to come to in the middle of Stockport. Our doors are always open."

Victoria says Kingsley Napley LLP is also making its office work for them and the planet. "Our new building in Shoreditch has received a BREEAM excellent rating – an accreditation for its level of sustainability and how efficiently it's run. An excellent rating is only given to around 20,000 new buildings a year."

And pharmaceutical giant Roche has made a long-term commitment to the planet, aiming to reduce the environmental impact of its operations by 50 per cent between 2020 and 2029. Its multi-faceted strategy looks at how it can improve in all relevant areas, from energy consumption to the weight of waste.

Through the examples of corporate social responsibility our panellists have highlighted, it's clear that there are many varied ways to make an impact. While all the initiatives are different, they share common themes – ownership, relevance and a clear sense of organisational purpose. All are needed to build and maintain leaders' and employees' enthusiasm and commitment to positive change.

Is your workplace top-notch in what it gives back? If your employees agree, you could be one of our special award winners in 2023. Our b-Heard employee engagement survey helps showcase where you're doing well and where you could be doing better in areas like CSR, leadership and wellbeing. Completion of your b-Heard survey also gives you a chance to place on our national, regional and sector League Tables.

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