Rodger Holden: Why are CSR departments getting fed up with charities?

27 Jun 2017 Voices

Charities could make more from partnerships in the UK's commercial heartland.

It is getting harder to raise money, says Rodger Holden. It’s time to try a more commercial approach, particularly when speaking to CSR departments.

The other day I bumped into a very well-known charity fundraising director who surprised me when they announced that they were seriously looking for a job outside of fundraising. The explanation given was that it was getting more and more difficult to raise money.

This is right of course, it is difficult, and the problem is exacerbated by huge competition between charities to generate income from corporates, events, trusts and individual donors, which is taking place against the backdrop of austerity. No doubt they are also spending more money to stand still.

Perhaps something is to be learnt from CSR departments. Some of them are disenchanted with corporate fundraising, where the emphasis lies with big pitches and novelty ideas that don’t have much to do with charitable mission. It is often very difficult for them to distinguish between proposals for Charity of the Year when all the combatants are basically adopting the same approach.

It is time to show more imagination, courage and commercial savvy.

There are of course some real challenges to this. Decisions on fundraising invariably focus on short-term KPIs and returns, while many of those who work in other parts of the charity hold little experience of the commercial world. There is always the balancing act with time and financial investment.

Nonetheless charities should consider shifting their approach, especially to corporates. Whilst accepting that there are still a considerable number of companies where the staff vote matters, there are also CSR departments that genuinely wish to engage in a proper dialogue without flashy presentations or BIG IDEAS for an event.

It might even surprise many corporate fundraisers that the CSR philanthropic remit comes at the bottom of the list of CSR priorities. More important are sustainability, reputation and risk management and employee engagement. Recognising this in fact gives greater scope for charities.

Corporate fundraisers should start to recognise the commercial environment in which a business operates, without making any assumptions; help them identify issues that offer genuine benefit to a range of stakeholders, and support them with genuine solutions, whilst exercising patience, persistence and imagination.

The independent charity, Crimestoppers, understands the value of commercial services working with over forty companies by providing whistleblowing lines, running crime awareness and detection campaigns on a range of public issues, and more recently establishing a brand licensing programme. Fundamental to all activity is proactive listening, supporting client partners by identifying threats and finding solutions with clearly defined KPIs. The charity is treated as a valued supplier because it addresses reputation and risk management.

 Entrepreneurial flair of a different type is demonstrated by The House of St. Barnabas, SOHO, which runs a member’s club in order to provide lasting employment for those affected by homelessness. This is a venture that not only raises income to support their work but also challenges perceptions of homeless people by promoting their talent and enterprise. Even if this wasn’t a charity, it’s a truly fantastic enterprise that stands on its own merit.

Many charities, small to large, might feel that they are somehow different; that their charitable cause isn’t relevant to the commercial world or that they don’t possess the necessary resources. They should think again, because commercially based opportunities genuinely exist for them, particularly with CSR, though never to the exclusion of other established corporate income streams.

The new way isn’t so new. There are already charities inhabiting the commercially-minded sphere but they are often unheard because of the preoccupation with the philanthropic ask. Social enterprises are on the ascendency and the marketing departments of an increasing number of companies recognise that commercial opportunities are possible when they are aligned to social issues. Don’t get left behind.

While it is never easy, isn’t it time that your charity at least considered taking a more commercial approach to generating income?

Rodger Holden is director of business development at Crimestoppers.


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