Lesley Beattie, Everton in the Community

By Lesley Beattie, Director of Development at Everton in the Community

Corporate social responsibility – more commonly known as CSR – refers to the management process by which companies choose to integrate economic, social and environmental concerns into their operation models.  

It has very quickly become a key investment area for business leaders who, through a variety of programmes including philanthropy and volunteer efforts, have engaged in CSR practices to benefit society and boost their brand. 

CSR can be extremely valuable for companies. A recent report from Reputation Institute, as published in Forbes magazine, found that 42% of how people feel about a company is based on their perception of its CSR activities, meaning that a company could attract greater talent, as well a larger consumer-base, by engaging in it. 

But now is a confusing climate for charities and their potential corporate partners. Presently, the third sector is arguably at its most stretched in decades and, following the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have been forced to re-think the affordability of their social value commitments.  

Loud criticisms have also been aimed at big-name businesses in the past for ‘woke-washing’ – using charitable efforts purely for marketing purposes – making some business leaders hesitant to engage in the practice. 

It’s clear that properly investing in CSR requires a strategic approach. Committing to a well-known global cause might seem like the best way to create impact, but it can misfire if you haven’t first established a proper understanding of, and relationship with, the beneficiary of your corporate donation. Businesses which are looking to show authentic community investment should think first about their objectives and values. Then, they can look for a partner with whom these align.  

For example, at Everton in the Community, our core values are Ambition; Determination; Authenticity; and Family. Our first step when working with businesses is to communicate these principles and ensure that the company is similarly committed – that way, our stakeholders know how we intend to do business. 

Another goal should be to concentrate your efforts locally, rather than stretching them too broadly. Since 1988, we have been working to support and improve the lives of local people by providing more than 40 programmes across mental health, social welfare and youth skills, to name a few.  

Demonstrating a more purposeful commitment to your local community can help improve your corporate reputation and creates a stronger business story for customers. We have worked with a huge number of partners on a huge range of fundraising, volunteering and donation-based initiatives – financial and otherwise – all of whom are investing in a targeted and local approach, which feels more purposeful than a large-scale donation to a global charity.  

Similarly, CSR investment should be bigger than just writing a novelty-sized cheque. If your company is particularly asset-rich, you should think of how your products or services could be used for social value projects. 

One successful relationship we have established in the past year has been with Appreciate Group Plc, a local gifting, pre-payment and engagement company, who have provided  

Everton in the Community with the funding to embed portable and programmable robots into primary and secondary schools as part of our E-STEAM programmes. Tech companies have in general thrived since March. However, a persistent issue within the industry has been a widening skills gap as the need for more digital-based jobs comes up against low-levels of computer literacy.  

Thanks to this donation, we are able to go into the 63 schools we work with across the Liverpool City Region and ensure all students, regardless of background, have the opportunity for STEAM work.  

This has the dual-benefit of helping schools to combat digital poverty; while also helping the company to invest in producing future employees. 

Another reason this approach worked well was due to its long-term payoff. CSR should not be a one-time offer.  

Companies who engage in strategic-led community initiatives by aligning their values with their charity partners can generate a sustainable social impact that brings benefits to both its community and stakeholders years down the line. At Everton in the Community we offer a variety of collaborative opportunities from ‘friend’ status through to ‘partnership’ and have built long-term relationships through this initiative.  

The coronavirus pandemic has created a huge number of challenges for businesses and their communities alike. But, it has also opened up an opportunity for greater corporate-charity resilience.  

As we pause and reflect on the so-called ‘new normal’, the time is ripe for businesses to think more seriously about their social, economic and environmental approach to facilitate a positive community impact.