Charities are missing the chance to build stronger relationships with corporate partners, according to the think tank Pro Bono Economics (PBE).
The PBE paper Parallel Tracks, published yesterday, says that partnerships between civil society and the private sector “are not operating at scale, as comprehensively or as effectively as they could”, especially for small charities.
The research found that the average contribution made by businesses in England to charities is just £450 per year, which PBE described as a “negligible sum”.
Its recommendations for incentivising closer relationships include “speed dating”-style events to introduce charities to potential corporate partners, and league tables of businesses based on their engagement with civil society.
Parallel Tracks is part of ongoing work for the Law Family Commission on Civil Society.
Private contribution a ‘fraction’ of potential
The research considered direct financial donations from private companies to charities and social enterprises in England, as well as in-kind donations, pro-bono support and employee volunteering.
It only looked at charities with an annual turnover under £25m.
PBE found that businesses contribute support worth approximately £2.4bn to charities each year, of which the vast majority – £1.9bn – comes through grants and donations.
Firms also provide £270m through in-kind support, along with pro-bono help worth £185m and staff volunteering valued at £17m.
The report said: “This is just a fraction of what businesses have the potential to provide, equalling just 0.061% of private sector turnover in England.
“To put that in context, the average pro-rata contribution per business across the nation is just £456 each.
“That is a negligible sum to many businesses: the average small business misplaces about £355 on average from its petty cash each year.”
The research cites NCVO analysis which shows that corporate giving also shows “a bias towards very large charities”, with the overwhelming majority of donations going to voluntary organisations worth more than £1m.
It also shows that businesses in the north east and south west of England are proportionally the most generous to charities, although firms in London give the most in absolute terms at around £800m a year.
The report says: “To better harness the potential of this partnership, to seize the opportunities on offer and manifest these benefits, the scale of engagement between business and civil society needs to be boosted.
“The gaps in the relationship must be tackled, and the engagement itself should be improved.”
It recommends building on existing campaigns to improve transparency and social action at private firms, such as gender pay reporting, to encourage businesses to think about their social responsibilities, as well as closer work between civil society and private infrastructure bodies such as the CBI.
Other ideas included ranking the top employers according to their engagement with civil society, to “help create a ‘race to the top’”, and dedicated sessions which allowed charities and private businesses to meet and discuss potential partnerships.
PBE: ‘An ocean of missed opportunities’
Nicole Sykes, director of external affairs at PBE and the author of Parallel Tracks, said: “This new research shows that the average annual contribution to small charities from businesses in England amounts to little more than a rounding error.
“The average business in England donates the same amount of cash to small charities each year as they misplace from their petty cash.
“It’s no wonder high proportions of the public are sceptical of business’ efforts to paint themselves as about more than just profit.
“This represents an ocean of missed opportunities for business to make a meaningful difference in communities around the country.
“If these opportunities are realised it will only enhance the success of both business and civil society.”