Why Do Companies Give Back To Their Local Communities?

  • 23 July 2019

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the broad term given to a range of activities that enable a business to play a positive role in society. Whether it's a sustainability policy, employee welfare or corporate fundraising, it all sounds great, but why do it?

Undeniably, CSR has become important to business and the wider public. Fulfilling CSR aims can impact a company's bottom line, no less so in the B2B arena. A partnership with a local charity is perhaps the most direct way to fulfil community-focussed CSR and is a big part of how many businesses give something back to society.

Katy Marlow is Events Coordinator at Farnborough Business Park. They recently hosted a Sleep Out fundraising event, encouraging their occupiers to get involved and raise money for Aldershot-based charity Step by Step. The charity supports local young people going through hard times and at risk of homelessness – young people like Darcy, who was forced to leave his home one night:

“I remember sitting in McDonalds in Farnborough for the warmth and not knowing what to do with my life. I spent the night sleeping in my friend's car. It was so cold. The next day I went to Step by Step and it changed my life forever.”

We spoke to Katy about the importance of such a charity partnership as part of a CSR strategy, and why she encourages Farnborough Business Park occupiers to get involved.

When did you first become aware of the importance of charity partnership in CSR?

“I've always been aware of the benefits of CSR from previous jobs and in particular my time working at CMPP Rushmoor, which was very much about linking businesses and charities and building relationships with businesses in the local community. Seeing that in practice at CMPP, how CSR can be placed at the forefront of business through networking and community engagement really drove home the importance of CSR for me.”

Fundraising is the obvious benefit for the charity. What are the commercial benefits for B2B? Can CSR impact a business' bottom line?

“CSR can 100% impact a business' bottom line. From the networking opportunities to being the difference between winning a contract or not, I've seen how it makes a difference. The knowledge that a business has a CSR strategy which benefits the local community can, for example, influence the tender process and give a competitive advantage. I'm aware that more and more, businesses with a strong CSR ethos and strategy will want suppliers to reflect their values, so the lack of one can really put a company at a disadvantage. Businesses want to be seen to align with like-minded companies with a similar ethical outlook. It all has an impact on how they are viewed by the wider community.”

Realistically, why do companies get involved and how do you encourage them? What sort of things do you do?

“We organise a variety of events. Recently we hosted our first Sleep Out to raise funds and awareness for Step by Step. A number of our tenants took part, for the wider commercial benefits I've talked about but also for more individual reasons. The Sleep Out illustrated this perfectly. One of our tenants experienced homelessness himself. He gave a talk to his colleagues which brought the issue home to them and encouraged the company and staff to get behind the event.

“Some of our other occupier companies were also happy to get involved. Syneos Health, including their CEO, took part and raised funds. Willmott Dixon is passionate about having a 'purpose beyond profit'. The company is already working with Step by Step and wanted to host a fundraiser. Our Sleep Out for Step by Step fitted the bill perfectly for their team of 15.

“The Business Park offers a comprehensive event programme and an established set up which makes it easy for our businesses to get involved and the Sleep Out provided an ideal way for our occupiers to access a sponsorship and networking opportunity and the wider benefits of CSR. Once word gets out about the positive PR, team building and staff development aspects, the facility to bring our hugely varied occupiers together, I find the enthusiasm is catching. People can see it is fun to get involved and the fundraising part is hugely rewarding in itself as well as the potential impact on profits.”

How can a company evaluate the more intangible benefits of CSR activities on its business and the community, e.g. brand enhancement, employee engagement or the long-term benefits to society?

“A well thought out CSR strategy will undoubtedly have a butterfly effect but evaluating it is harder. The effect may not be immediately obvious or direct and one small act can make a massive difference further down the line to both business and charity. In a way, the work that Step by Step does, supporting young people facing homelessness with its unique “step by step” approach, encapsulates the butterfly effect and I've seen the positive impact on employees and productivity, brand enhancement and awareness that comes from a business demonstrating a wider purpose than simply making a profit. Take an environment like Farnborough Business Park. We're creating our own Business Park wide CSR policy that our occupiers can get involved with. It enhances that community and creates a buzz and community wide feel good factor.”

Why is your role important? Is there a benefit for FBP to offer tenants the opportunity to engage in a CSR strategy and charitable giving?

“My main role here is to retain our current occupiers and attract new tenants. Farnborough Business Park's CSR strategy makes good sense for us as a business. We can offer our occupiers without a CSR strategy a benefit which they may recognise is important but don't have the resources to pursue internally. For our tenants with established CSR policies, they can tap into what we offer when they want. We can be the conduit to putting our tenants in touch with each other and to engaging with and giving back to the local community. It gives the Business Park a unique selling point. We, as a business, care about our immediate and wider community, so it is part of our CSR strategy to be able to say to our occupiers, either we reflect your values or we can offer you an added CSR benefit at Farnborough Business Park. It's a good thing all round.”

Why Step by Step in particular?

“I'm a local girl and I've always known about Step by Step and the importance of being able to intervene with young people facing homelessness at an earlier stage. I also had a friend who went through Step by Step and it made a huge difference to their life. The next generation of some of our workforce here could well come through Step by Step's approach of ensuring that every young person they see realises their full potential. The Business Park getting behind Step by Step is an effective way to get the message out to our occupiers and the young people the charity supports, what's out there for each other. It's the butterfly effect!”

To find out more about partnering with Step by Step, please contact our Corporate Partnerships Team on 01252 346107 or email fundraising@stepbystep.org.uk.