Rogues, rookies, and dribbled paint? Whatever – CSR is in!

By Anna Snowling on 24 March 2018

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) rightly gets a bad press when it involves tokenistic gestures by big corporates seeking to pacify government and public opinion in the cause of profit. Even well-meaning companies can misfire awkwardly in the cause of CSR. Like the rookie company offering to teach a 200 year old charity and it’s grandmother how to suck ‘business survival’ eggs (awks), or an unskilled team painting a whole community centre, badly, in the cause of saving a local charity time and money (not).

In the right spirit and with the right match, CSR can be an invaluable social and organisational resource. My charity, Three Cs, has benefited from CSR input as diverse as Barclays (strategy, data analysis) and Ipsos Mori (ethnographic research) and both experiences were highly productive, contributing to ideas about sustainability and evidence for fundraising respectively. Thankfully, all of that benefit came without egg sucking, awkward moments or dribbled paint.

There is an assumption that charities are recipients rather than contributors of CSR, and that the private sector has more to offer. Not so at Three Cs. As well as receiving, we have been a CSR contributor since 2010.  Our experience is that it is win, win and win: wider social benefit, professional development and organisational learning.

Firstly, wider social benefit is achieved by Three Cs contributing to or through the recipient organisation. Secondly, the individual involved contributes their skills and competences, and acquires new ones with benefit to their own personal, professional development, as well as to Three Cs. Last but not least, the CSR relationship extends Three Cs networks which are vital for learning, ideas and innovation.

Our Head of Social Inclusion, Alison Love, was the first member of the team to take up Three Cs CSR offer back in 2010. She is highly enthusiastic about the opportunity which she has used to contribute to leadership and governance in her role as Trustee, then Chair, of Intoart. This South London charity’s vision – for people with learning disabilities to be visible, equal and established artists – has synergy with Three Cs vision of equal citizenship and social inclusion, including paid jobs. It’s a match made in heaven. Alison says “I can use the CSR time I am allowed in a very flexible way, like adding an hour to lunchtime or leaving an hour early to attend a Committee meeting or chair an Intoart event. It really helps make it doable.”

Our Finance Director, Stuart Ryland, is equally enthusiastic and uses his CSR time as Director, and Company Secretary of Bal Polski CIC, which organises an annual charity fundraising ball under the patronage of His Excellency, the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland, Dr Arkady Rzegocki. Last year, Bal Polski raised £20,000 for charity, including a school for blind children in Warsaw, “Laski”, and the Stroke association in the UK; this year’s ball will mark 100 years of Polish independence. Stuart uses his CSR time for committee meetings, or to attend to business and financial matters. “I am really appreciative of the time that Three Cs allows me to commit to this great cause.  It assists me in preparing and filing annual statutory accounts for the CIC, as well as corporate tax returns, and other company secretarial duties” says Stuart.

Angela Woodley, Director of Services, has become charity trustee and director of Time and Talents.  Founded in 1887 to support the people of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, and highly respected for its work with older people, Time and Talents is a creative and vibrant hub of community life for people of all ages and backgrounds, and an exemplar of what innovative 21st century multipurpose community organisations can achieve. Angela says “This is a very exciting period in Time and Talents’ history as it responds to massive demographic and geographical change in its area of benefit”. With many years’ service development and modernisation under her own belt, Angela is looking forward to using her CSR time to contribute to the governance of expansion, development and modernisation that the charity envisages.

For my part, having spent half my adult life as Trustee or Chair of charities, I decided to branch out and contribute to a different sector entirely, joining the Governing body of Ickburgh School, a forward thinking and inspiring school for children and young people aged 3 to 19 years who have been assessed as having profound and multiple learning disabilities, sensory impairment, severe learning disabilities or autistic spectrum disorders.

Last year, I used Three Cs CSR to attend day time governors meetings and the Xmas Party, where I was thrilled to be asked to judge artistic table centrepieces made by the students. As well as contributing to governance, I have learned lots: how different but important the OFSTED regulation framework is for a school that is GOOD knocking on the door of OUTSTANDING, the real difficulties of getting health and care agencies around the table with education to produce Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) –  a key process in the transition to adulthood and adult services like Three Cs – and lots about the latest thinking in communication development for pupils with Special Educational Needs, all of which is very relevant to my day job.

I have two resolutions for CSR during 2018. The first is to make sure that the sixth formers at Ickburgh School benefit from Three Cs success, and my experience, of getting people with learning disabilities and autism into paid employment. The second is that we find ways of extending the CSR offer to more managers and staff at Three Cs. Two days and time flexibility is a modest CSR contribution for a triple whammy return: tangible social benefit, professional development for the individual and new learning for the contributing organisation. We are seeing well past the rogues, the rookies and the dribbled paint, and it is so worth it.