Admittedly bittersweet, the past eighteen months have reminded our, at times, fragmented world of the power of community engagement and what we can achieve when working together. Neighbours pulled together to support vulnerable community members, be it picking up their shopping or checking in regularly by phone; schools and other public institutions flung open their doors to act as vaccination centres; we stood together, weekly, to recognise our healthcare system and other key workers.
Of course, collaboration need not only come in the face of adversity; and our experience of working with hundreds of businesses, of all sizes, over the past year or two is that companies are wholeheartedly embracing their interconnectedness and responsibility to their local communities and that it’s a habit that is sticking.
The significance of Environment Social Governance (ESG) is on the ascent although still holds different meaning to different businesses. The social pillar of ESG can sometimes be overlooked in relation to the more concrete understanding of environment and governance. According to Harvard Business Review, companies with a clearly defined sense of social purpose are up to 50% more likely to successfully expand into a new market. Another study by Deloitte found that 50% of millennials would be happy to take a pay cut to find work that matches their values. Clearly ‘social value’ is vital to achieving commercial success and attracting the most ambitious talent. In this economic climate such considerations should not merely be kept in mind; they should be front of mind.
Indeed, the report by Deloitte throws up another tributary of discussion, namely whether funds spent on employee entertainment can, in part, be diverted to ‘social value’ initiatives whilst still helping to attract and retain talent.
The truth is attracting and retaining talent and investing in ‘social value’ are not mutually exclusive; they are, instead, natural and happy bedfellows. Investment in community projects, which give staff the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and give back provides a real, burning and long-term sense of satisfaction that a few trips to the local simply cannot replicate. That is not to say after-work drinks are now off the menu; it’s that diverting some of this money into charitable initiatives can be more effective at attracting staff in the long term.
Take one example: ActionFunder, a new matchmaking platform that helps firms find, fund and follow community projects. Since it was founded, ActionFunder has successfully channelled grants to an array of community projects, be it The Brent Cross Town Community Fund’s basketball training programme for local women or Oxford Mutual Aid food and baby supplies to low-income families, those with disabilities and the homeless.
Sir Robert McAlpine has seen the benefits of this involvement first hand, having delivered funds to around 40 projects in communities near its construction sites through ActionFunder (see their page here). Since joining this platform, the firm has seen a marked improvement in employee engagement. Having been able to see grant applications, pick them, and watch them develop with their funding, employees are more than just financially invested in the initiatives – people are buoyed by doing something beneficial for wider communities, and consequently become more connected to their colleagues and employer through a shared sense of purpose. This success has also been mirrored across a range of different companies. For early adopters that have dedicated community outreach resources, the platform has streamlined the process of identifying causes that matter to their customers and are relevant to their business, and for those without a decided ESG resource, it has allowed them to get going and start the process.
Benefits go beyond the here and now, too. Social investment is an investment in company legacy. A strong history of involvement in ‘social value’ defines a clear ethos for your company on a public platform, and that has a lasting impact on whoever will come across you – be it employee, client or community member. No business is an island and making a mark on a sector is all about how you are remembered. Of course, profit and the way in which you can reward your employees will always be essential, but it should not be at the expense of the wider context of your work – nor are they even at odds.
‘Social value’ is not a tick box exercise. Initiatives will look different for every organisation, depending on their values. But companies should not shy away from it, and with platforms like ActionFunder to streamline the process (for both grantor and grantee), they no longer need to. We would like to challenge businesses to plan their budget with ‘social value’ in mind. It might take time to find the right balance for your resources, but do not be afraid to persevere. You will reap rewards.
Written in collaboration with Mark Shearer, Co-founder of ActionFunder