Making a difference

CSR | Tue 11 Nov | Author – Business & Finance
As part of its CSR programme, State Street sponsor the Junior Achievement Sum it Up! Programme
As part of its CSR programme, State Street sponsor the Junior Achievement Sum it Up! Programme

A will among Ireland’s business community to maximise their impact on charity and community can have huge benefits for all involved, writes Dean Van Nguyen.

Companies in Ireland have a responsibility to ensure they conduct business in a manner that’s ethical to their employees, the local community and the environment. While almost every firm would assert their willingness to operate in a moral and principled manner, the company’s that boast the most impressive, purposeful philanthropic strategies are those who embed the principles of good corporate social responsibility (CSR) into the fabric of their organisations.

Ireland is a giving nation, though that willingness to help our fellow man has been tested in the recent past with some unfortunate headlines stemming from the third sector. The controversy surrounding the Central Remedial Clinic − a disability organisation who last year confirmed that money donated by the public was being used to boost the salaries of well-paid staff − damaged the public’s trust in charities.

Such black eyes can take time to heal. According to The Wheel, an organisation representing 930 Irish charities, 97% of Irish charities believe that the CRC scandal has seriously damaged public confidence in them. Some 53% said that the publicity had negatively impacted on their fundraising.

In the business community, however, there appears to be more hunger than ever to implement strategic approaches to charitable giving, play a constructive role in local communities, and reduce carbon footprint. By doing so, many are finding that they are improving all tiers of their business, right down to their bottom line.

Business and community

The desire to implement better CSR strategies in Ireland starts from the Government. Last April, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation Richard Bruton launched ‘Good for Business, Good for the Community’, a new two-year national plan conceived to help Ireland become the best small country in the world in which to do business and a centre of excellence for responsible and sustainable business practices.

A firm noted to be socially responsible can experience an enhanced reputation with the public and the business community.”

The initiatives proposed included the establishment of a stakeholder forum on CSR to support the development of corporate giving in Ireland, and the creation of a baseline of CSR activity through the National Standards Association of Ireland. Additionally, the Government pledged to work with stakeholders to raise awareness of CSR and support best practice CSR, and to explore how IDA and Enterprise Ireland can promote CSR with their client companies.

“We in Government are very conscious of the valuable role that CSR can play in contributing to Ireland’s economic recovery,” Minister Bruton commented upon the announcement. “Increasingly, good CSR practices are distinguishing the best companies from their competitors, and are having a positive impact on their competitiveness. The way that businesses integrate social and environmental concerns into their engagement with customers, suppliers, employees and local communities is becoming hugely important to the sustainability of their business.”

The State Street team taking part in a Tidy Towns initiative

The State Street team taking part in a Tidy Towns initiative

He added: “The national plan we are publishing today, as part of the Action Plan for Jobs, outlines the key principles and objectives which underpin the Government’s approach to CSR, and sets out a series of actions for 2014. We will shortly establish a CSR Stakeholder Forum to drive development of this sector.”

Creating a CSR-minded business community is, of course, a good thing for Irish society at large. But charitable and community organisations are not the only ones to benefit from a company’s philanthropic work, there are many benefits for the company itself. A firm noted to be socially responsible can experience an enhanced reputation with the public and the business community, increasing the company’s ability to attract both customers and trading partners. Additionally, consumer’s desire to support businesses that behave ethically must also be considered. For example, in the 1990s, Nike was the target of a global boycott after being accused to using sweatshops to produce its products.

Employee engagement

Another advantaged to a well-oiled CSR programme is the impact it has on staff morale. Working to assist charitable causes can help foster a good relationship between a company and its employees, as well as instilling a certain level of pride into the workforce.

An example of a firm enthusing its staff with a wide spanning CSR strategy is international financial services holding company State Street. The company runs giving programmes at 38 sites in 25 countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. While its corporate giving strategy is plotted from its US-based headquarters, State Street employees partner with local charities and serve on regional committees that identify community needs.

“From a giving perspective, our corporate citizenship department completed a giving review a couple of years ago to put in a CSR plan in place and highlight what we wanted to achieve,” says Shane Doyle, assistant vice president of corporate citizenship for State Street in Ireland. “Rather than a broad giver or a reactive giver to philanthropy causes, we looked at trying to be a bit more strategic in our thinking and our giving. Maybe about three years ago we started to focus our grant giving on projects that are trying to get people back to work or trying to keep young teenagers engaged in education to give them better chances to complete their educations and perhaps go on to third level.”

In State Street’s most recent Employee Engagement Survey − which is undertaken by the firm every two years − 71% of respondents said that by supporting some of the corporate citizenship goals they feel a better connection to the company. It’s a statistic that underlines the powerful impact CSR can have on a sizeable workforce. But State Street −  who run offices in Dublin, Drogheda, Kilkenny and Naas −  actively engage with staff to ensure operations fully meet their needs. For example, every staff member is entitled to two days’ volunteer leave to support a charity of their choice.

Supporting staff

“It’s not just the organisations that we’re supporting with our grants,” explains Doyle. “If the employee is consistent in their volunteering with a specific organisation, the company will make a financial donation to that charity in recognition of the volunteering that the staff member has done. The company will also make a financial donation if the staff member is making regular donations to the charity. So [if an employee pays a] €20 a month standing order to a charity, the company will match that. And also, if there’s any staff members participating in marathons or sponsored walks and so on, the company will match whatever sponsorship the staff member has raised from friends and family.”

There’s no single correct strategy for good charitable practise, but examining how their CSR initiatives operate … is becoming increasingly important for every member of the Irish business community.”

While a happier workforce is undoubtedly a more productive workforce, CSR can also lead to an employee’s professional advancement. Like many firms, State Street looks at opportunities for developing its staffs’ skillsets through volunteering and involvement with charity’s and community organisations.

“For example, we are strong in supporting staff who might want to sit on the board of a charity and learn about governance, financial reporting and strategic thinking of a charitable organisation. These are skills that are beneficial to the individual and the company they work for” says Doyle. “Also if staff members are interested in developing project management skills, we might ask them to take up the role of a project manager with a volunteering project  − this could be as simple as spending half a day managing a team of painters at Barrettstown or LauraLynn [Children’s Hospice] to much larger projects.”

Going green

A key pillar of good CSR is environmental sustainability. It can also be one of the most difficult for a company to tackle, as it sometimes involved reversing decade-old habits at significant expense. But going green is a concept that has become increasingly valued in recent years, and many large companies are now dedicated to reducing their carbon footprint as much as possible.

In the case of State Street, senior management has set a goal that by 2020 the firm will have zero waste going to landfill and are proactively towards that with some simple but inventive initiatives.

“In Ireland and in the UK we have bin-less offices, so we don’t have bins at every desk. Everyone has to get up and walk to the bins, where they will find recycling bins, confidential bins and food waste bins. It’s often an effort when people have to walk to a bin, so they will  segregate and recycle instead of just dropping everything into the bin under the desk,” says Doyle.

Tough times

Perhaps the single greatest impact on the evolution of CSR in Ireland over the past few years has been the onset of the recession. The financial crisis caused a swell of Irish people to fall below the poverty line, as well as shut down or seriously endangered many companies. In this environment, CSR began to tumble down the list of priorities for many firms.

A study conducted in 2013 by charity governance agency Boardmatch Ireland, as reported by the Irish Independent, found that charities lost a combined €270m in funding from the State and public in three years. The report on top-earning charities between 2009 and 2011 found that they had collective underwent an 8% decrease in funding from €3.05bn to €2.78bn.

Shane Doyle from State Street admits the recession has had an impact on charity donations, though the company have focused their CSR efforts on stimulating employment. “Since the financial crisis our budgets globally for giving have maintained. So they haven’t dropped; they haven’t increased either but we’ve kept them at level funding which is quite good. However, we also refocused during that time; mainly onto getting people back to work.”

According to Turlough Galvin, a partner at law firm Matheson, the aftershock of the onset of the recession is still being felt. “Corporate philanthropy remains very much under-developed in Ireland. The onset of the recession would certainly have delayed development,” he explains. “But we really need to change the culture of philanthropy and to encourage corporates to participate in philanthropy in a considered manner.”

Matheson welcomed NASA’s Charles Bolden (left) as part of the Dublin City of Science Festival 2012

Matheson welcomed NASA’s Charles Bolden (left) as part of the Dublin City of Science Festival 2012

The future

Galvin leads the Matheson Giving Programme, working with a number of organisations focused on helping Irish children to fulfil their potential, such as The Centre for Talented Youth in Ireland and Junior Achievement Ireland.

While asserting that the intentions are laudable, Galvin is somewhat critical of firms who adopt a ‘Charity of the Year’ strategy − whereby a different organisation is selected every 12 months to receive the company’s full philanthropic focus.

“In my opinion, it doesn’t really help charities in a structured way or give rise to any long-term benefits,” says Galvin. “At Matheson, we partner with charities for a least a three year period − or in some cases much longer periods − so as to enable charities to embed structures to improve things and plan over a longer term.

He adds: “We would hope that this is the philanthropic approach that many corporates will adopt into the future.”

Of course, there’s no single correct strategy for good charitable practise, but examining how their CSR initiatives operate, as well as their effectiveness, is becoming increasingly important for every member of the Irish business community.

With the benefits being as hefty as they are, companies would be wise not to neglect what could be a key element of their culture.

And this is a good thing for Irish society as a whole, because from owners and staff, to the charities themselves; when a company correctly engages with its corporate responsibility, everyone is a winner.

CG 50 2014This article was originally published in the Business & Finance Corporate Giving 50 2014. A special report on some of Ireland’s top CSR-minded companies.