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People or profits?

Andrew Dalglish, director at Circle Research, debates the pros and cons of CSR

Cynics decry corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a callous PR stunt. In response, the business community reiterates a commitment to their people, their community and the environment. 

So who’s right? 
Well, both. Let me explain…

At Circle Research we introduced a volunteering scheme last year. As a company we pledged to donate a month of our time in ‘work-hours’ every year to charity and worthwhile causes. In part we did so by volunteering at an inner-city school in London, but our focus was on donating our services pro bono. The result is the People or Profits report – an exploration of how charities can attract more volunteers from the business community, and how businesses can implement a more successful volunteering strategy.

Research findings
When asked what motivated businesses to create a volunteering policy the majority gave altruistic reasons. One quarter (25 per cent) said the primary driver was to ‘help those in need’, a further quarter (23 per cent) said it was to ‘improve the local community’ and one in 10 (11 per cent) said it was to ‘support a cause particularly close to their hearts’. In other words, they were doing it because it was a good thing to do. 

Now, those cynics would put this down to social acceptability. That may be true. However, I don’t think that’s the case because while they say their primary motivations are altruistic, they also recognise that there are strong business reasons to volunteer. When asked how volunteering has benefitted their organisation the top two answers given are ‘greater employee engagement’ (40 per cent name this as a benefit), and ‘PR/reputational enhancement’ (38 per cent).

 So brands volunteer because it’s the right thing to do, but also recognise the marketing and motivational benefits. Charities understand this, and they actively want this to be the case. As part of the report we also consulted a number of charity CEOs to get their input. They told us that their goal is for volunteering to be a win-win situation as it encourages those companies who do it to stick with it, and those who don’t do it to join in.

 So my challenge to the cynics is what’s so very wrong with that? After all, everyone’s a winner.