While corporate responsibility initiatives are still partly motivated by philanthropy, many large companies now view them as possessing a clear strategic dimension that makes them an increasingly core part of many of their business activities.
New research published in the UK by Deloitte, the business advisory firm, suggests that the reasons why large UK companies undertake corporate responsibility (CR) activities have evolved over recent years.
"Increasingly, corporate responsibility programmes involve a more sophisticated commercial focus where companies seek to open up new markets, attract the best staff, acquire new customers, and develop strategic relationships," said Deloitte partner, Heather Hancock.
"The best businesses concentrate on what they do best, and deliver leadership in society through the core activities of their business. Providing corporate expertise, insight and experience can prove to be far more valuable than simple cash donations."
The report, More than just giving, examined CR activities across six sectors within the FTSE 100.
It found that CR programmes are increasingly used to develop relationships with government, suppliers and customers in key markets, as well as to mobilise staff and strengthen corporate culture.
This manifests itself, for example, in airlines investing in carbon reduction schemes, supermarkets targeting responsible sourcing and energy and mining companies targeting environmental issues.
In a similar vein, many companies align their CR work to their professional offering. Technology firms typically invest in technology-led projects, while pharmaceuticals companies focus on public health issues and drug access challenges.
The report also found that the focus of CR projects for both providers and beneficiaries is moving away from purely cash donations to include resources such as staff volunteering, the use of facilities or assets, or pro bono business expertise.
Thus while the UK's largest businesses collectively make investments of more than £1.4 billion, this doesn't take into account all of these non-financial contributions.
Dame Sue Street, strategic adviser to Deloitte, commented: "For their part, charities and community organisations need to think more strategically about the prospective corporate partners which can help them achieve their goals.
"Intelligence and contacts will become increasingly important for charities as they work to acquire new sources of revenue and build strategic alliances. Charities should consider a wide range of potential support from corporate partners and not focus solely on short-term cash contributions."
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