Asmah Baig: Successful CSR programmes need to be authentic

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Corporate Social Responsibility programmes not only benefit local communities and the environment but also the business that runs it. From employee engagement and team bonding through to enhanced relationships with clients and brand reputation, the impact of CSR initiatives are well documented. To be successful, however, you need to ensure that your programme is authentic, focussed and supported.

Identify your impact areas and stakeholders

Nowadays, clients hold businesses to account to a higher standard. They don’t just want a quality product or service. They also expect to see companies operate in a socially responsible way and to address their social and environmental impacts.  In the first instance, businesses should identify their stakeholders and areas of focus.

At Bond Dickinson, for example, our CSR programme looks at three key areas:

  1. Our local communities – we want to support local charities/projects to demonstrate a genuine commitment to the areas in which we operate.
  2. Our people – we know that staff want to work for organisations whose values are consistent with their own. We want to create a culture which supports our employees and attracts people from a wide and diverse background
  3. Our environment – we operate in communities across 8 locations, and we want to ensure we control our environmental impact.

 

Successful CSR programmes are authentic

A successful CSR programme does lead to staff engagement and brand awareness – if implemented correctly. If implemented without authenticity, businesses will be seen to be supporting CSR for cynical reasons potentially leading to reputational loss. A few points to consider when revising/implementing your CSR programme should be:

  • An authentic CSR programme needs to be supported by senior management and embedded in the values and culture of the firm.
  • CSR works best when it is genuine. Employees and clients alike are pretty good at spotting “policy statements” which have no follow through. Therefore, avoid the “green-washing” criticism. Adopt a programme that makes sense for your business and is consistent with its brand. The success of a CSR programme depends much more on fit, authenticity and execution, rather than uniqueness. Use the core skills of the business as a tool for social change.
  • Engagement of employees is an important resource to progress the CSR objectives of a business – support activities which are also close to the values of employees. Staff will remain involved when the initiative is something they care about.
  • Consider putting in place a structured mechanism of encouraging staff to volunteer. For example, adding a CSR activity to all staff appraisals will drive employee engagement. Similarly, providing awards/extra holiday/cash bonus for certain CSR contributions will go a long way in boosting enthusiasm.
  • Corporates measure the results of their social responsibility programmes, and use these results to make decisions on efforts going forward. Setting objectives demonstrates commitment and transparency.

 

CSR at Bond Dickinson

In 2013 we revised our whole CSR programme. We are a business based in 8 locations across the UK, employing circa 1200 staff. We wanted to put in place a programme which would maximise our CSR offering to make that vital “difference” to our stakeholders. Our revamped programme has achieved some tremendous results, these are outlined in our recently published CSR report which has had positive feedback from clients and staff:

  • Each member of staff is entitled to 2 days paid volunteering.
  • Staff have volunteered circa 6,700 hours, taking part in a range of activities from pro-bono work and mentoring through to school reading initiatives and supporting community projects.
  • We have helped raise over £500,000 for charities and community projects.
  • Our national charity partner is the Prince’s Trust for whom we have help raise £250,000.
  • We have supported 75 other charities too. In Bristol, for example, we support St Peter’s Hospice, which has a strong personal resonance for our firm and in the last 6 months, we have raised more £12,000 for the charity.
  • In Aberdeen we have supported CLAN Cancer Support for a number of years. We approached CLAN in 2012 with the concept of a charity walk through the city of Aberdeen. The Clan Walk is now an annual event and has raised circa £162,000. This initiative resulted in us being shortlisted for the Scottish Legal Awards.
  • Lawyers in London have partnered with Greenwich Law Advice Centre, which has resulted in shortlisting for 2 major national awards.
  • In Newcastle we have supported the Greggs Breakfast Club and Percy Hedley School (a Foundation providing a range of quality specialist and personalised care/education/support to disabled people and their families).
  • In Leeds staff elected to support the Leeds Community Foundation – we were the first corporate partner to support the fund.
  • In Southampton staff collaborated with the Southampton Sholing Salvation Army to start up a much needed Community Café for vulnerable people. The project is in memory of Pat Rea a dedicated supporter of CSR in our Southampton office.
  • In Plymouth we have a longstanding relationship with the Theatre Royal Playhouse Project which to date has worked with around 1,620 young people in the South West and 6,480 children nationally.
  • This year we received ISO14001 accreditation (an international standard in environmental management). The success of the accreditation was due in part to the support of our Environmental Representatives in each of our offices.

 

The impact of CSR

We wanted to put in place an authentic programme which demonstrated leadership and support from our senior management.  Our role models are rooted in senior management with Nick Page, our Chairman, spearheading CSR and Board Member Paula Dillon who leads our Diversity and Inclusion programme.

We are very proud of what we have achieved through our CSR programme and we owe our success to our people as we would not have achieved so much without the engagement of our staff. By embedding CSR in our values and business processes we have tried to demonstrate to our staff that CSR is part of what we do as a responsible employer and business.

We believe our actions have had a positive impact in the local communities we operate in and we’ve received some touching testimonials which have reinforced our ambition to be good and considerate neighbour.

Simon Caraffi, CEO at St Peter’s Hospice said:

“Bond Dickinson are one of the most energetic, enthusiastic and committed corporate supporters we have worked with. Their very strong personal connection with St Peter’s Hospice through their colleague Robert Pope, who died at the hospice last year, has created a strong bond between us. This is shown not just in the big financial donations they have made but also in their involvement in so many aspects of St Peter’s work which has included them working in our shops as well as participating in several events. It is great to have this support from such a highly respected Bristol company.”

Once a CSR programme is perceived to be genuine staff will become more engaged and your business will attract a wider pool of recruits. The business impact from an authentic CSR programme in terms of brand reputation and marketability to clients will follow.

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