CSR: Making business personal

Big corporate businesses can often seem faceless and inaccessible to consumers, but involvement in local community projects can help fill that void of personality and make companies more approachable.

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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) may not be top of the agenda at every business in light of the current economic situation, but considering 97 per cent of people would think more positively about a company if it contributed to their community, it may be time for marketers to give CSR more attention.

That figure comes from new research by local community organisation Your Square Mile, shown exclusively to Marketing Week. It also finds that 37 per cent of people feel business involvement in their community is currently poor or very poor.

Paul Twivy, founder and chief executive of Your Square Mile, says: “CSR as it stands today is not enough any more; it’s not just about donating money. That is obviously important, but businesses also need to commit resources such as time, skills, venues and land to the communities where they are based.”

The findings were compiled following a survey of 1,000 people from across the UK, aged between 18 and 65. Respondents came from Your Square Mile’s own database as well as a consumer panel run by research company ResearchBods.

At present only 1 per cent of people feel contribution from business is excellent in their local area, while just over 7 per cent believe work in their community is very good. The majority (55 per cent) reckon business backing, whether that’s financial or support in terms of advice, resources and volunteering, is just average.

Indeed 60 per cent of people believe businesses should “definitely” contribute more to community life and a further 35 per cent think they should “probably” be more involved. Meanwhile, less than 1 per cent are opposed to the idea.

“Within any one business there will be lots of people who are trained in or are very good at accountancy, IT, building management or legal advice, all of which are professional skills that can be hugely useful for volunteering purposes. Volunteering doesn’t just have to be about painting a fence, digging a ditch, visiting an old person or manning a phone,” says Twivy.

How do you rate the current levels of business contribution to you community? Click the image to see a bigger version

Accountancy help is singled out as the most appropriate service for a business to provide to local projects and organisations (89 per cent) according to respondents, while 88 per cent feel businesses could also offer communities marketing and communications or IT support, and 86 per cent feel it is key for businesses to sponsor local events.

Other services people think businesses can credibly provide, and are seen as a priority, are venues or land for projects, volunteers, assistance with grant applications, mentoring for young people and apprenticeships.

This view is endorsed by Mark Wakefield, corporate citizenship and corporate affairs manager at software provider IBM. He highlights that it is not just consumer-facing companies that need to do their bit, saying:

“We think we can make a far greater difference by utilising our knowledge, skills and technologies than we can by writing a cheque. We’ve been on that page for more than 15 years.”

Top services that respondents feel it is appropriate for a business to provide. Click the image to see a bigger version

IBM set up the Smarter Cities Challenge three years ago to help cities across the globe, by contributing the time and expertise of some of its staff from across different business units. Each year IBM invites cities to bid to receive a donation of professional knowledge and skills. In the UK, Glasgow was the first to be selected as part of the initiative as it wanted to explore how data might be able to help it reduce fuel poverty.

IBM sent five consultants to the city for three weeks to look at the problem. After doing so it produced a report outlining 60 recommendations for strategies and tactics that the city council could use to improve on what they were already doing.

Wakefield says: “We fully understand that while organisations are grateful for financial donations, the reality is they have a finite benefit – once the money is gone, it’s gone; whereas if you can help an organisation or community and make it more sustainable, that will create longer-term improvement. Businesses need to address the underlying issues rather than just sticking a plaster over the wound.”

As well as being viewed more favourably, businesses that involve themselves in the local area can also expect to see commercial benefits, the survey finds.


More than half of people (54 per cent) say they would be more likely to buy products or services from a business that immerses itself in the community, while 37 per cent would be more inclined to recommend a company or its products and services to other people.

“Doing these things isn’t just good for your reputation, it also buys businesses customers and increases employee motivation and productivity,” says Twivy at Your Square Mile.

He cites Tesco as a good example. The supermarket was able to increase its local market share in some under-performing areas after it began supporting activities in local ethnic and religious groups with which it previously had little connection.

It is large retailers such as Tesco and competitors Sainsbury’s and Morrisons that people feel are in the best position to be able to contribute more to local communities, which Twivy says is probably because they have a strong presence on most local high streets. Banks including Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds TSB, as well as mobile phone operators O2, EE and Vodafone, are singled out for the same reason.

Twivy says that mobile phone companies have started to set up more of their own social initiatives. Vodafone has Just Text Giving and Mobile For Good while O2 has a project called Go Think Big. However, there is still much more they could do, he believes.

Although consumers may be more likely to buy from companies that immerse themselves in the local community, businesses do need to be wise about the way they convey that message so initiatives are not seen as self-serving or done purely for commercial gain.

“Businesses need to listen systematically to the local community’s exact and precise needs and set about supporting them in any way they can – not just through money,” Twivy argues.

“More than anything it is about setting up face-to-face meetings and encounters, but it is also about communicating through local media, rather than always reaching for national press. Sponsoring local events and being seen to be active in local communities is also very important.”

Marketers’ responses

Stephen Uden
Head of citizenship

It’s very important to make sure your business is properly grounded in the local community where you operate and is therefore trusted by those communities. Trust is a key dimension of customer loyalty, and particularly important for the financial services sector.

In 2007, our members voted that 1 per cent of our pre-tax profit should go to support local good causes, but rather than just writing a cheque from head office we involve our members and employees, both in branches and online, in working out where that investment should go.

We are also donating our time and expertise in any areas in which our employees and customers feel we ought to be involved.

Tracey Herald
Head of community
O2 Telefonica

For O2, building trust is a critical part of our relationship with customers. We want to use the power of our brand to help our customers tackle the issues that matter most to them. Youth unemployment is a good example – it causes anxiety for parents and results in huge untapped potential for young people.

So, we’ve launched GoThinkBig.co.uk – a digital platform that helps young people to get a foot on the career ladder. We’re working with Bauer Media to unlock 30,000 work experience and skills opportunities and we’re inviting other UK businesses to join us in addressing the problem.

Responsible business is defined today by strong values and social purpose – and not just by great products and services.

Case study



Over the past six months, drinks manufacturer Heineken has stepped up its involvement in communities where it has a strong presence as an employer, working with community organisation Your Square Mile to set up projects that have the ability to drive lasting local change.

Heineken made the move in response to feedback from its employees who felt strongly that the beer and cider company should have more of an active role in the communities where it operates.

As part of the process Heineken set up community workshops in Tadcaster, Ledbury and Moss Side. The meetings brought together community groups including the local housing association, youth organisations, social workers and councillors, as well as charities like Fathers Against Violence. A group of local people ranging in age, ethnic background and social demographics were also invited, in addition to a number of Heineken employees.

As a result, David Paterson, head of public affairs and corporate responsibility at Heineken UK, says: “We’ve been able to identify and respond to local needs rather than impose projects from the centre.

“We are now delivering a range of projects that local people and colleagues believe will make a difference to their local community. We believe that’s the right thing to do and this survey demonstrates that there is a real public appetite for this kind of community engagement.”




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