How to continue CSR activities during Covid

Employees' perception of their workplace is often based on its charitable initiatives – and despite the pandemic, there are still projects firms can carry out, says Andrew Jones

Nearly half (42 per cent) of employees’ feelings about their workplace are based on their perception of its CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities, according to a recent report.

Many skills can be developed when taking part in any kind of charitable activity, with employees able to learn about potential clients, develop their communication skills, improve leadership and gain important local insights.

Generally, CSR departments focus on specific, predetermined issues. However, currently, the global focus is Covid-19. With so many affected by the pandemic, the public is taking note of how businesses respond. If there was ever a time for businesses to do right, it’s right now. And those that step up will demonstrate best how to be a moral compass for others.

The current challenges

Research shows firms reduced their CSR efforts during the global recession because ‘non-core business activities’ were hard to justify.

Social distancing measures meant CSR met unforeseen and serious challenges to its fundraising methods. Opportunities for employees to undertake charitable activities were limited, resulting in frustrations for staff and the non-profits they wished to support. 

There has been a rise in businesses switching to in-kind giving, donating products instead of financial aid. While this is helpful for many struggling, this can also take extensive resources to track effectively, unlike financial donations.

Businesses must learn how to prioritise and temporarily redirect resources to support vulnerable communities. Your partners are often the best resources to help you decide how to do this. Make sure you collaborate and co-create a clear plan with timelines, deliverables and goals to decide what urgently needs to be tackled.

Activities that can still be effective

Clearly, this is not the time to continue ‘CSR as usual’, but businesses should carefully evaluate which of their resources and abilities are most suited to the current emergency. Taking a step back and developing more thorough and innovative CSR activities may produce better results.

Some of the most successful charitable activities during lockdown have been the ones that have both supported vulnerable communities and shown appreciation for key workers. For example, Euro Garages gave away 300,000 drinks to NHS and emergency services workers during the first lockdown, to help boost the morale of those working non-stop.

Many of Express Vending’s customers have made financial donations to food shelters and some are in the process of donating any leftover Christmas budget – usually kept aside for festive parties – to charities.

It is essential businesses support small suppliers through the crisis too; this will ensure they continue production and help support additional CSR programmes.

Communication and internal benefits

All employees should be informed of the collective impact of CSR on their company. At Express Vending, internal feedback and information shared through social media are crucial in relaying the impact of our charity work. It also often results in a larger group of volunteers, improved camaraderie or larger donations for future projects.

The most effective way of doing this is to report not only on statistics but also on its long-term social impact. For example, the amount of money raised from a charity event will pay for 10 extra carers for the vulnerable elderly community during Covid restrictions.

Channels such as social media and intranet sites need to be used to make these updates easily accessible, especially as more people are working from home. Now might also be the perfect time to focus more efforts on your internal company e-newsletter. Some businesses report their internal updates have soared during remote working, with an up to 80 per cent open rate, as e-newsletters help employees feel connected to their place of work, while remote working continues.

Andrew Jones is head of everyday essentials at Express Vending