Author: Arnav Lahiry 

In July, YourCause was thrilled to host our inaugural in-person London event on the topic of “Next Generation Social Impact in the UK”. Having battled the UK’s most extreme heatwave to date only days previously, CSR and ESG champions from top organisations gathered for an inspiring day, full of engaging dialogue and thought leadership. Below, I will highlight some of the key insights from these discussions, with ideas ranging from collaborating with communities, creating longer-lasting charity partnerships and embracing a new perspective of sustainability to the challenges of effectively engaging employees and communicating your impact to different stakeholders.

Collaborating with a Community 

Isabel Kelly, Founder of Profit with Purpose and former International Director of the Salesforce Foundation, kicked off the morning with an invigorating keynote address on the transition from social impact as a sideline topic to a headline focus for corporations. While companies position philanthropy, CSR, sustainability and ESG as important functions of their business, Isabel presents Purpose, the state in which “the core mission of business is intrinsically linked with social or environmental objectives”, as the alignment that empowers the highest impact.

One of the most profound moments from this speech was when Isabel posed a unique challenge to social impact leaders going forward: “Don’t volunteer and definitely don’t ‘give back’.” Seemingly counterintuitive, the statement in fact aims to subtly distinguish the act of delivering philanthropy ‘to’ a community with the act of collaborating ‘with’ a community to create respectful and sustainable impact. If we are ‘giving back’, we shouldn’t have taken it to begin with.

Driving Forces of Responsibility 

Beyond the immensely valuable keynote address, we were honoured to have so many social impact leaders in attendance that were also able to offer their wisdom on the best practices within the CSR space and the common challenges that they face. This was most prominent during our peer discussion session at the event, where practitioners joined forces to brainstorm around key topics such as boosting employee engagement, understanding the role of ESG internally and externally, and identifying bigger steps that corporations need to take to create lasting social impact.

The dichotomy between the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ drivers of ESG and CSR programmes was an engaging point of conversation. While many leaders are naturally inclined to ‘pull’ social responsibility forward as it is the ‘right thing to do’, others find themselves pressured by the increasing ‘push’ of regulation to disclose their company’s greater impact. When exploring driving factors beyond regulatory requirements, leaders accentuated the ability to promote brand trust and loyalty among customers, as well as enhance working culture and the potential to hire and retain top talent. Louisa Minter-Kemp, Corporate Sustainability & Communications Manager at Schroders, kindly shared this as one of the takeaways from the event: “Engage with early careers talent and hear what they expect from a business to drive positive climate and social impact.”

Sustainability Through the Lens of Lasting Impact 

With the contagious passion of leaders in discourse, it was of no surprise that the crucial topic of creating lasting impact in communities received so much emphasis. Charity partnerships are a prominent feature of CSR programmes in the UK, with many companies nominating a ‘charity of the year’ or creating multi-year flagship campaigns with their chosen nonprofits. Often, however, building short-term partnerships with charities, particularly smaller ones, can result in those charities securing only a temporary growth in capacity that begins to diminish as the partnership ends and corporations transition to a new partner. Instead, sustaining multi-year partnerships cultivate longer lasting impact, especially as employees are able to develop a deeper attachment, increasing charitable engagement.

On this theme, David Picton, Senior VP of Sustainability at Alcumus, spoke to an expanded outlook on sustainability beyond the ‘green’ component. In the broadest sense, sustainability refers to meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations. Therefore, rather than being limited to environmentalism, sustainability applies quite directly to every employee’s actions in their facility to propel business growth, environmental care and social well-being. Julie Tucker, PR & CSR Manager at BE Offices, exemplifies this idea perfectly, sharing that “As a result of the event, we will formally be including and elevating the importance of social impact into the activities of our Green Group (possible group name change required).”

Engaging Employees and Communicating Outcomes 

The forum was also an ideal opportunity for social impact practitioners to consider the challenges that they face in their day-to-day. Engaging employees and communicating corporate responsibility effectively to colleagues can be a tricky task, even more so when operating solo. A popular piece of advice was to appoint ambassadors and impact champions, as well as to plan programmes around timely cultural or global events. Additionally, CSR leaders unanimously agreed that acquiring C-Suite and Board level support was vital in delivering a unified voice that would resonate with your workforce.

As we all know, no discussion around social impact is complete without mention of tracking and reporting. Whether to quantify your impact and demonstrate accountability, or highlight achievement and portray a compelling story, the power of data is undeniable. Corporate responsibility leaders were in accordance that the most essential step is to define what impact means to you as an organisation, and then apply an appropriate, trackable, system of measurement. With the right set of tools and technologies, companies can leverage impact reporting to bring CSR and ESG initiatives to even greater heights.

We were elated that the session managed to foster so much amazing conversation around social impact, and everyone was able to leave with some truly actionable takeaways. With many attendees sharing how beneficial it was to meet like-minded peers and learn from one another, we definitely hope to host similar events in the future. Above all, YourCause from Blackbaud strives to continue working alongside corporate citizens across the globe to drive engagement in the wonderful world of social good.

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