Mandela Day or the festive season – this is when most business owners and entrepreneurs think of giving towards a charity or a good cause. However, there are many good reasons for businesses to roll out a formal corporate social investment programme, from complying with black economic empowerment (BEE) codes to building employee morale and to simply giving something back to the community, says Joanne van der Walt, Sage Foundation programme manager for Africa.
However, the challenge is to ensure that the funds and time you invest in charity deliver the impact you are expecting, she adds.
To put together a social investment strategy that is meaningful for your business and for the organisations and communities you work with, Van der Walt suggests SMEs implement these 5 ideas.
1. Don’t let it be about compliance alone
If you’re a busy entrepreneur, you might be tempted to simply donate some money to a charity to get a tax break, build relationships with a client or comply with the BEE code for your sector. However, programmes that make a difference are as much about your time and commitment as they are about your money.
Be strategic in your thinking – look at the resources you have available and how you would like them to make a difference. Decide which causes you are most interested in supporting – if you are a supplier of baby products, visiting local orphanages is a great place to start donating to. Or you might be passionate about education or healthcare, and have expertise that can help non-profit organisations (NPOs) in these sectors.
Once you have done that, you can put together a strategy that outlines what resources you will mobilise, to what end and how you will measure success. This gives us a framework where we can make a real impact.
2. Focus on measurable influence
If you are serious about using your resources to make a difference, try to invest in measurable outcomes. Ask your NPO partners what they could achieve with the time, skills and money you are able to donate, and work with them to reach their goals in a sustainable manner. It’s easy to write a cheque, but more meaningful to leave a real legacy.
For example, don’t simply donate R5 000 to a community school – work with the principal and teachers to set up a small library and perhaps partner with local organisations to donate books on a regular basis. This will also be an opportunity for you to ensure that the library is always well-maintained. Rather than donating a computer, make the goal to ensure that the charity’s administrator can use an accounting package and send marketing mailers to donors.
3. Listen to your NPO partners
Entrepreneurs and businesspeople often step into a charity or a community with preconceptions about how they will help and what their partner should be doing. They often think that their strategic insights and business skills mean that they should dictate how an NPO conducts its business.
However, it’s best to start by listening. Ask the people in the community or the people who work full-time in the NPO about their problems, their experiences and their approach. You’ll usually find out that there are good reasons why they do things in a way that seems strange to a businessperson, or that your ideas about where their problems lie are incorrect. It’s best to approach each engagement in a spirit of humility and partnership.
4. Get your colleagues involved
Your corporate social investment programmes will deliver the most value to your business and your NPO partners if you get your people involved. Volunteering makes your colleagues feel good about themselves and proud to be part of your business. It can even help you to retain or attract staff. Millennials especially want to work for companies that is part of something meaningful.
5. Be committed
Effective social engagement is about long-term relationships and commitment. Rather under-promise and over deliver than make commitments you might not to be able to keep. Many NPOs are badly let down when a company promises them funds or help, then fails to follow through. For example, in some cases, volunteers lose interest before they finish painting the building or planting the garden.
These programmes are not just about Mandela Day or Christmas. They should be long-term investments in helping to make the world a better place. It takes time and sustained effort to make a real difference to the organisations with which you partner.