While Corporate Citizenship is usually seen as the preserve of larger enterprises, most companies are engaged in it in one way or another. Ireland's leading organisation for advocating corporate social responsibility in the workplace is Business in the Community (BiTC). While it draws its membership from the ranks of larger companies operating around the country, it is also helping SMEs to get in on the act of charitable giving and has set up a new facility - Responsible Business for SMEs - specifically to address this area.
However, it appears most Irish SMEs are already involved in Corporate Citizenship, only they don't call it that. A recent survey by ISME found that 94 per cent of its members donate cash to charity while 39 per cent of them have a charity partner. One-third of Irish SMEs donate up to €500 a year, a quarter give up to €1,000 and another quarter give up to €5,000. There is payback from this philanthropic activity, according to BitC marketing manager Moira Horgan. "Many of the companies we've spoken to have found that charitable donations can improve employee engagement, impacting positively on recruitment and retention and enhancing workplace culture."
So what is the difference between philanthropy and Corporate Citizenship? Not a lot, except that Corporate Citizenship usually has a little more thought behind it and is seen as belonging to five distinct areas or pillars: the workplace; marketplace; governance and communications; environment; and community.
According to the European Commission, Corporate Citizenship is "the responsibility of enterprises for their impacts on society", and a Corporate Citizenship policy aims to ensure that an enterprise has positive, sustainable impacts on all five of these pillars.
One of Ireland's most active companies in the Corporate Citizenship arena is KPMG, where Karina Howley is head of Corporate Citizenship. "We used to have a very scatter-gun approach," she says. "We were inundated with letters requesting help and we just wrote so many cheques, but with the best will in the world you cannot support everything. We decided to be much more focused, to look at our strengths and values and how we could apply them. Education, for example, is now a core theme in our Corporate Citizenship activity. When taking on a project, we look for something where there is a synergy between us and where we can have a sense of ownership.
"Our Corporate Citizenship initiatives are something that differentiates us when we are recruiting, and young people ask us about it when they are looking at their career options. Young people do want to make a difference, give back to the community and make the world a better place. In addition to the range of company-organised Corporate Citizenship activities, every employee is entitled to two volunteering days in addition to their annual leave."
Each year there is a 'Project Bright' competition, where staff members are invited to develop a project that will benefit a local community organisation and so far 10 organisations have benefited since the competition was started in 2010. There is an excellent prize for the competition winners too; this year they go to the 'One Young World' event in Bangkok.
KPMG is involved with two local schools: 'Time to Read' sees volunteers providing reading support to pupils at City Quay National School and staffers also act as mentors to pupils at CBS Westland Row.
The company has a long-standing relationship with St Michael's House, where KPMG staffers regularly provide help with support days, decorating and refurbishment and landscaping. However, last year, the company developed a range of sensory stories for the children at St Michael's House, an initiative that won the 2015 Business to Arts Best Creative Staff Engagement award. The simple stories have a sensory element with each sentence, so 'A Trip to the Seaside' would include the rattling of car keys, the sound of a seagull and a squirt of water on a hand.
'Get Cents' is a money management /budgeting course offered by KPMG volunteers at the North Wall Community Training Centre since 2009. "It opens up many participants' eyes to items such as the annual cost of cigarettes," says Howley. "And our trainees get a shock when they realise how much they spend on coffees."
KPMG also works with Social Entrepreneurs Ireland to help get good ideas, such as Coder Dojo and Food Cloud, off the ground and it supports Enactus, a programme aimed at fostering social entrepreneurship among third-level students.
"These are just a few of the projects we do," says Howley. "I would advise any SME to look at where its strengths and interests are for example: if you are a web design company could you help train a school principal to put a website together, or could you help a charity organise itself to accept online donations? A good place to start is Business in the Community - they will match you to a charity that fits your profile."
Certainly, there are few charities in Ireland that have not benefited from corporate sponsorship of one kind or another. At the Peter McVerry Trust, Francis Doherty says the charity is particularly reliant on corporate help in the battle to provide permanent accommodation for homeless people, of whom there are now more than 5,100 in Ireland; more than 1,500 of those are children. "There are two areas where monies raised are going: emergency response temporary accommodation and providing new homes," says Doherty. "We receive help in donations and through organisations like our San Sebastian to Barcelona cycle and our Dublin to Wexford cycle, both of which Dublin Chamber of Commerce president Greg Clarke completed.
"We recently completed six one-person apartments on Pim Street with the help of funding from Saint-Gobain Ireland and we are working with the Construction Industry Federation to develop 12 one-bed apartments at Hogan's Court."
Unicef works with companies in Ireland, ranging from large multinationals to small family firms. "At Unicef, we pride ourselves on building successful relationships that continue to give to children year after year," says Unicef communications manager Clare Herbert. "We work to create bespoke packages to align the goals of the SME with our work and there are a number of ways they can help, including corporate donations, employee fundraising, customer engagement and cause-related marketing. Employees often act as Unicef brand ambassadors within their companies and join us in the office to learn more about our work."
At Special Olympics Ireland, about half of revenue in an ordinary year comes from corporates, but in a national or international games year that proportion increases dramatically. "At the Ireland games, we would be feeding three meals a day to 1,500 athletes and a lunch to 3,000 volunteers over four days; we couldn't do that without donations in kind from food companies like Kellogs or Pallas Foods," says fundraising director Glenda Wright.
"At the Limerick games, we had 170 volunteers from Dell, which was great because we had ready made teams of people who had worked together previously. When we are dealing with a company, it is always better if, instead of talking to just one person, we are talking to a Corporate Citizenship committee with people from across the company, because then we get more buy-in. When it comes to getting volunteers for our annual street collection, it is always better if there is a group of 10 or so volunteers from one company [rather than] an individual - because if it is raining, the group will always come out, but the individual on their own might stay at home.
"And we love it when a company wants to do a bit of PR after they have fundraised for us or when they have agreed to present prizes to athletes, because that is a way for us to get more companies involved."
This is just a flavour of the structured engagements which exist between corporate Ireland and the charitable sector; if your company wishes to get involved more formally in Corporate Citizenship, the advice of Karina Howley is probably best: find a charity that reflects the values and strengths of your business and contact them to find out how best you can work together.
The following article appeared in Business Ireland in December 2015 and is reproduced here with their kind permission.