NOW is the time of year when businesses are stimulated to have a strategic look at how they are going to do better.
Better at managing the risks, improving their brand reputation, introducing new products or services or enhancing those that already have are just some of the ways they may do this.
Another that is equally – many would say more – important to a successful business is to take a long, hard look at Corporate Social Responsibility and what that means to the way that business operates.
Firstly, it is worth defining what CSR is. Fundamentally it’s about encouraging people to be more aware of the impact of their business on the rest of society, including their own stakeholders and the environment.
So a CSR programme should aim to deliver economic social and environmental benefits. Clearly the type of business you’re in will determine what this means in terms of actions and outcomes.
However, one way in which CSR can be implemented in very positive ways is by looking at the social requirements in your local community and how the business you own or work for can make a contribution.
Supporting local charities can tick many of the boxes, whether support is provided in the form of fundraising by individuals or groups, money is donated corporately or time is volunteered by the workforce during the working day.
At Citizen’s Advice, we are keen to explore ways that Milton Keynes-based businesses may look to support the services we provide not only for the benefit of the people in and around the city but for their own advantage too.
While there are few people who have not heard of Citizen’s Advice (after all, it has been around since 1939), there are many misconceptions about the organisation and how it operates.
Many will be surprised to learn that it is a charity, not a government agency or council-run department, which means it is entirely dependent on grants and donations. And each office is run as a separate operation responsible for raising its own funding.
Around 17 million people use our online advice each year. In Milton Keynes alone, we helped 12,000 people with a range of issues including managing £1.6 million in personal debt.
Citizen’s Advice would not exist without its army of volunteers. There are 23,000 of them throughout the UK, enough to fill the O2 arena and in Milton Keynes our volunteers gave over 25,000 of their time last year with our longest serving volunteer recently clocking up 31 years of advice work.
But what does all of this have to do with you and your company? Well, quite a lot really.
The more local people that are managing their money, are adequately housed and are not troubled by legal or other problems that Citizen’s Advice can help with, the fewer will draw on council, NHS and other resources that are already spread increasingly thinly. Clearly this benefits individuals, companies and the UK as a whole. So, Citizen’s Advice continuing to operate brings both financial and social benefits.
Providing this service, even with the majority of staff being volunteers, costs money. Premises, IT, phones, salaries for a small employed team and so on all stack up so we are asking local companies to think about making Citizen’s Advice one of the charities for which they raise money.
However, we understand that it is highly likely that this has never been a consideration before so if you would like to come and see us to find out more about what we do or you would like us to come to you to explain how we work and how your money could be used, we would be delighted to see you.
Alternatively, think about allowing your staff to donate some of their time to support what we do. Are you auditors or accountants who could offer advice or reviews so that we do not have to divert funds from our services to help with these obligations? Or maybe you have people who can speak a language that is needed to provide help to local residents but is currently lacking in our team.
Or perhaps you could spare a person to become a fully trained volunteer, we can talk to you and them about what that entails.
If you are an IT specialist, you could look at providing support for our systems or if you are legal experts, you could think about providing one of your team for a regular weekly or monthly slot.
We are always looking for ways to communicate our messages and grow awareness of what we do, so if marketing or social media is your bag then we would love to hear from you too. Or there may be other more creative was you could help that we have not considered.
I hope that this has provided some food for thought and that part of your discussions around development of your business and how you can do better include improving support for your local community and charity.
Whether that is Citizen’s Advice – which, obviously, I hope is towards the top of your list – or someone else giving time or money to individuals and organisations less fortunate than yours, it has to be a good thing for all concerned.