Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a common measurement of how well a business interacts with communities and stakeholders. Strong and coherent CSR policies have helped shape the identity of many companies and studies show today’s employees want to be part of an organisation that makes a positive impact and gives back to the world around them.

Every business is faced with navigating the new economic landscape for its long-term survival and in this article, I discuss the long and short-term challenges and opportunities that can be addressed using the values of CSR.

 The importance of CSR

42 percent of employees’ feelings about their work are based on their perception of their CSR activities. This means nearly half a company’s reputation is based on what it does to help its community. Not only does good CSR enhance a company’s reputation, but it is proven to make businesses more innovative and collaborative.

Many skills can be enhanced when taking part in CSR activities; employees learn about potential new clients, improve their communication and leadership skills, and gain vital knowledge about their local communities.

Generally, CSR departments focus on specific, predetermined issues. But, at this moment, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 is taking front of stage. This is hardly surprising, with so many people affected by the global pandemic.

If there was ever a time for companies to do right – it’s right now – as more than ever, individuals are taking note of the way businesses respond to the current crisis. It’s a chance for companies to step up and demonstrate how their values can be a moral compass for others.

The COVID-19 challenges

Social distancing measures brought in to protect people and try to curb the spread of the virus mean the CSR industry has met unexpected and severe challenges to its fundraising methods.

Firms reduced their CSR efforts during the worldwide recession because resources allocated to ‘non-core business activities’ were tough to justify. Opportunities for colleagues to undertake volunteering or other charitable activities are limited, resulting in hindrances for both employees and the nonprofits they wish to support.

There has been an increasing number of companies shifting to in-kind giving as well, donating products instead of financial aid. While this is advantageous for many struggling, this can also take vast resources to marshal effectively, unlike financial donations, which are mainly done digitally, taking the added responsibility away from volunteers.

Businesses must also focus on redirecting resources in the short-term to assist vulnerable communities. Your partners are usually best placed to advise on how to do this effectively. Ensure you pool resources with them to co-create a clear plan with timelines, goals, and deliverables to help decide what urgently needs to be done during this challenging time.

Effective CSR for the current climate

In the hurry to provide for those in need, companies should cautiously assess whether their resources and capabilities make them suitable to respond to a specific emergency. Taking the time to plan more thoughtful and innovative business models may yield better outcomes in response to coronavirus.

Some of the most successful CSR activities during lockdown have been the ones, which have both supported the most vulnerable communities and which have shown appreciation for key workers.

For example, enterprise software firm R3 redirected its fortnightly kitchen deliveries and weekly office fruit supplies to three different homeless shelters and NHS institutes. This equated to over £15,000 in cereals, snacks, juices and spreads, which helped boost morale for those who were working non-stop.

Some of our customers are also in the process of donating any of their leftover Christmas budgets – usually kept aside for Christmas parties – to charitable causes.

Companies must learn to prioritise and redirect resources in the short and medium-term to support vulnerable communities. Once the COVID-19 impact begins to recede, businesses will require support from stakeholders to jointly tackle priorities like the climate and biodiversity emergencies that have been provisionally put aside.

It’s vital well-positioned businesses support small suppliers through the crisis too; this will ensure their ability to resume production and also provide support for their CSR programmes.

All of these actions will influence the speed of the eventual economic revival.

The benefits of strategic, internal communications

At Express Vending, internal feedback and information shared through social media channels are vital in spreading the effect of our charity work. It also often results in a larger group of volunteers or larger donations for future projects undertaken with our partners.

Channels like social media and intranet sites need to be used, to make these updates easily available, especially as more people work remotely.

Employees should always be informed of the collective impact their CSR contribution has. 80 percent of employees who take part in workplace volunteering say they are fully aware of the community investment policies, but this falls to 44 percent with employees who do not volunteer, so it’s vital messages are shared far and wide to increase engagement.

The most successful way of doing this is to report not only on statistics, but also on the long-term social impact. For example, the amount of money raised from a charity event will pay for ten extra carers for the vulnerable, elderly community during COVID restrictions.

Now, might also be the perfect time to increase efforts promoting your internal company e-newsletter. Some businesses report their internal updates have skyrocketed during remote working, with some e-newsletters generating an 80 percent open rate. It’s thought these resources are becoming more popular, as they help employees feel connected to their businesses, while home working remains prominent.





Andrew Jones is Head of Everyday Essentials at Express Vending. He joined the company in 2009 and manages the department responsible for providing a range of products and services to offices across the UK including office consumables, fresh milk, and dairy deliveries.