Although CSR should be pursued for altruistic reasons, there are business benefits to running CSR programmes, including an enhanced reputation with potential customers and the community, as well as opportunities for team building as employees work together towards a worthwhile goal. Supporting charities, whether local, national or global, also provides a useful balance to day-to-day work and a sense of perspective. Many businesses can provide invaluable support to charitable and local community organisations, not only financially, but also through offering expertise and in many other practical ways. So, how do you start a CSR programme? It is a good idea to appoint a champion who is passionate about the issue of CSR, has sufficient time to carry out their role and has the support of the management team. Choosing a charity to support can also be a challenge. One way to overcome this is to consult with staff who may have causes they are passionate about. Another is linking up with customers, suppliers and, in our case at Patron Capital, investee companies, to consider what they are passionate about and to explore the possibility of joint charity initiatives. This approach not only helps bolster relationships but also provides additional expertise and pairs of hands. Getting employees involved from the start is absolutely essential to ensure success. One particularly effective means of doing this is to enlist their support through their interests, whether playing football, walking, running or cake baking. For example, at Patron Capital we have a number of sports and outdoor enthusiasts, who have taken part in events including charity half marathons, five-a-side football tournaments, treks and mountain climbs. CSR programmes are not simply about writing a cheque and walking away. Often, ongoing support and assistance are much more rewarding for all parties. Think about what you could offer, whether that means pro bono marketing or fundraising support, making introductions, or providing a venue for an event. At Patron, one of our main initiatives involves supporting disabled Royal Marines war veterans and we have provided fundraising support, help organising events, and work placements (both at our offices and with our contacts, investee companies and customers) to aid their rehabilitation. Being properly involved is the key to getting the most from a CSR programme. In all of the work we have done at Patron, some of the most interesting people I have met and the most satisfying things I have achieved have been through my work with the Royal Marines, the Prince’s Teaching Institute and other charities. My current project is the RM1664 challenge, an event which celebrates the 350th anniversary of the Royal Marines and will see commandos ski, sail, cycle, kayak and run over 4,000 miles with the aim of raising £500,000 for the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund. I will personally be participating in the kayak element of the challenge – a 28-hour, 90-mile stint rowing across the channel – and being properly involved has been an immensely rewarding experience. There are various organisations to team up with that provide practical help for SMEs to conduct a CSR programme. One such organisation is Business in the Community, which offers advice and support to get involved in local, national and international programmes, covering initiatives ranging from tackling local youth unemployment to responding to international disasters. Keith Breslauer is MD of Patron Capital, a specialist pan-European property investor, which owns Powerleague, the five-a-side football specialist, and Generator, which has revolutionised the hostel accommodation sector. Charities he works with include The Prince’s Teaching Institute, the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund and the Prince’s Regeneration Trust.
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