There are many good reasons for constructive engagement between voluntary organisations and businesses within local communities, not least the development of employee skills and their engagement with their employer. Charities too often have low expectations of local businesses, but should be able to borrow employee time and skills to create capacity, improve services and utilise other resources that businesses can spare.
I believe that communities and small businesses should develop cross-sector networks to pool resources and enable ‘company citizens’ to contribute more to society in a business-efficient way. This is the call from my report ‘The Company Citizen’, an analysis of 14 existing local business engagement networks across England.
Across England, from Darlington to Swindon, Cheshire to south-east London, I have witnessed a number of networks have emerge in recent years in which businesses have pooled their employee volunteering activity, both time and skills, shared other resources and raised money for local charities. No two of these networks have evolved in the same way and it is a sure sign of success that some models are now being franchised to new areas.
Whilst several groups centre on a local Council for Voluntary Service other network hosts include a Chamber of Commerce, two universities, the City of London Corporation, a group of corporates and a social enterprise. Only two, in Shropshire and Oxfordshire, have emerged from the SME community itself. Most find it necessary to employ an administrator, at least part time, though funding that post and others is a major challenge for most of them.
Networks which charge membership fees tend to be smaller and whilst the looser affiliations grow quicker they lack sustainable funding and some are struggling with finance, although two had received government funding. All of them have web sites and most utilise social media. All were achieving enough to claim to make a difference and justify their struggle for existence!
Citizens care about their neighbours, their environment and their families and they act when there’s need to do so; it’s in companies’ interests to do the same.
Tom Levitt was a Member of Parliament 1997-2010, where he specialised in charities, volunteering, community development and international development. ‘The Company Citizen’ was published in June 2015.
This was originally published on the Call to Action for the Common Good project platform, curated by CoVi: www.calltoactionforthecommongood.org.uk