‘Tis the season of goodwill, but how much time and money should you devote to good causes?

Every December I get countless emails with similar messages: We aren’t sending Christmas cards this year but are making a charitable donation instead.

You’ll no doubt receive many similar emails.

Now, I’m no Christmas Grinch, donating in lieu of sending Christmas cards is perfectly sensible; it’s good for the environment and raises much-needed funds for good causes. However, I’m always left wondering whether this charitable spirit extends to the other 11 months of the year

I’ve always been a firm believer that businesses should do good. Not just for their employees, clients and themselves, but also for the wider community. Over recent years this has become known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Confusingly, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive definition of CSR, even the Financial Times is quoted as saying: CSR is a concept with many definitions and practices. The way it is understood and implemented differs greatly for each company and country.

However you choose to define CSR, at its heart is a belief that business should be about far more than just profit. Naturally, profitability drives sustainability, without which businesses couldn’t provide opportunities for employment, progression and learning. But as we approach the third decade of the millennium, business must take responsibility for the community of which it is part, its effect on the environment (both locally and globally) and the people who help it succeed.

Practising what we preach

I’m delighted that so many people at Beaufort Group take social responsibility so seriously.

This year saw some intrepid members of our team raise £20,000 for the Dreams Come True charity by completing the Three Peaks Challenge. They trained hard, bonded over blisters and other assorted injuries, promoted the event online while inviting clients and suppliers to join them on the challenge or support with a donation.

The result?

A significant sum of money which has been used to bring moments of joy to children with serious and life-limiting conditions.

The same spirit has been embraced throughout Beaufort Group; over the past year, our partners and their teams have supported numerous grass-roots charities and community projects, including:

  • Our Reading team, who support Ark Cancer Charity with members of the team participating in the annual Ark Riders cycle challenge. They also host an annual fund-raising professional connections pub quiz and this year completed a sponsored abseil from the Spinnaker Tower.
  • Our Mansfield team who during the past few months have raised £400 for When You Wish Upon a Star.
  • The Group has donated over £6,000 to The Dream Factory, a charity aimed at making the dreams of children and young people with life threatening and limiting illnesses come true.
  • Our Birmingham team sponsors a cycling team.
  • And, finally, Mark Cooper from our Taunton team took the unusual step of growing, perming and then shaving his hair, all in aid of Make-A-Wish!

The money raised for good causes is the most obvious result of these endeavours. However, there are numerous other benefits:

  • It shows a human side to our business, which clients and prospects can easily relate to
  • It aids recruitment; research has shown that many people, particularly millennials, are increasingly attracted to working for businesses which demonstrate ethical and community-minded practices
  • Research has also shown that many consumers consider CSR as an important factor in their decision-making process
  • Internally, the events have certainly been positive for building our teams creating new relationships while strengthening others
  • They can also be a great opportunity for junior members of the team to take the lead; allowing them to develop their project management and communication skills while getting to know colleagues throughout the business

There are of course potential pitfalls to be aware of:

  • You still have a business to run and won’t help anyone if your CSR activities mean you take your eye off the ball
  • There’s only so much time your team can commit to CSR without it having a detrimental effect on your business
  • Having said that, writing a cheque and throwing money at CSR isn’t necessarily the answer either. It won’t help you build a stronger team, nor will it provide you with significant profile-raising opportunities
  • Charity fatigue; if everyone in the firm is asking for sponsorship, you and others will get very annoyed, very quickly! Far better to be strategic and inclusive; asking members of the team to help pick the charities you support and the activities you undertake will get far greater ‘buy-in’
  • Inevitably once your activities hit the headlines other charities will approach you with requests for support. That means you’ll spend quite a lot of time (politely) declining their invitations; this can be both time-consuming and soul-destroying even if it is unavoidable

Lessons learned

To help avoid some of these pitfalls and benefit from some of the lessons we have learned, can I finish by offering these five quick tips?

  1. Include as many members of your team in the decision-making process; from the apprentice to the Managing Director, your CSR efforts will be far more effective if everyone feels that they have been listened to
  2. Put policies in place to clearly state the charities you support, the nature of that support and for how long it will last for
  3. Agree on assessment criteria for what constitutes CSR, marketing and HR; this will help you understand the commitment you are taking on and what you can hope to gain. It’s equally important to acknowledge that some activities are just about doing good. There might be no marketing or business benefit. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that
  4. Don’t let your passions take over by assuming that just because you’re enthusiastic about a cause everyone else should be; you will only risk alienating your team
  5. If now isn’t the right time to develop a fully-fledged CSR policy, pick one thing and follow through with it (even if it’s just donating at Christmas instead of sending cards). That way you will show that you are human and caring but that you also have set your parameters for what you will commit to

It’s all about finding a balance; with the good you can do on one side, balanced by the time, money and resources you commit on the other.

Whatever you choose, whether you call it CSR or ‘just doing good’, I’d encourage you to think carefully about the positive impact your business can have on others. And, as the adverts used to say: It’s not just for Christmas!