Expert views: What are the current trends in community investment?

Michelle Smith, Community Lead, The Co-operative Group:  Over the last few years our experience is that local communities need our help more than ever. Corporate organisations are tending to...

Michelle SmithMichelle Smith, Community Lead, The Co-operative Group

Over the last few years our experience is that local communities need our help more than ever. Corporate organisations are tending to focus on business purpose and  themes, how they can make the most impact to build their profile. From the perspective of co-operatives, communities have always been fundamental to what we are about and are key to who we are and how we operate. Our organisation is differentiated by focusing on members and their views – we take our cue from what they feel is important and how we can make a difference co-operatively and collaboratively.

malcolm brownMalcolm Brown, Head of Corporate Communications, Scotmid

A lot of our success in community activity has been through looking at what is relevant to our communities at the moment. A lot of what we do isn’t being done by anybody else – we look at what help our communities need, what solutions could work well, and what we as a co-operative can do in the areas that we cover.

Mike Tuffrey LBG

Mike Tuffrey, Co-founder, Corporate Citizenship:

We see investment taking place in three main areas: charitable contributions (helping without expecting anything back); community investment (linking a cause to the business, eg a supermarket running a workshop on healthy eating); and commercial initiatives (basically cause-related marketing – for instance, buy this product and we’ll give 10p to your school).

We looked at a subsample of people who had been reporting using the LBG corporate community investment measurement model over 10 years, and we found an appreciable switch away from the charitable gifts, and into the win-win community investments. We’ve had a big shift; ten years ago, roughly two thirds of what members were doing counted as a ‘charitable gift’ and only 30% was classified as ‘community investment’. That has now reversed – community investment is 70% of what people are doing. The other switch over ten years is an increase in employees, and a doubling of the proportion of employees who are undertaking voluntary activities.

Andy_Melia (1)Andy Melia, Head of Community Investment, Business in the Community

We are increasingly seeing businesses and co-operatives shifting from thinking about the traditional ways they contribute to the community (such as  donations or volunteering), to leveraging all the aspects of their business to deliver social value. This can now include, for example: changing procurement practices to support small, local businesses entering the supply chain; considering how employment practices include certain vulnerable groups; and sharing the knowledge and skills within the business with community groups through skills-based employee volunteering.

Mike-Pickering-RGB-600x360Mike Pickering, Community & Sustainability Manage, The Midcounties Co-operative

There is an emerging focus on investing locally and supporting community issues that really matter to those who work, live and learn in the local community. This investment is taking place in various forms, including financial grants, colleagues volunteering their time to support community projects and fundraising with the local community. The emergence of the 5 pence carrier bag charge levy has also opened up further investment opportunities for retailers, providing local autonomy to decide how to invest this levy to support the local community. There is also a growing trend for businesses to measure the return on their community investment in greater detail, in terms of both the impact being made in the community and the associated business benefits, whether through a more positive profile or greater appeal to customers. We have introduced our Regional Community programme to ensure we have a focused, measured approach to supporting communities in identified locations where the Society has a strong trading presence.

rsz_minnie_moll_for_webMinnie Moll, Joint Chief Executive, East of England Co-operative:

I think there is more focus on working together in partnership, rather than just giving money to organisations. Good companies are more likely to look for synergy with their business, so that there is strategic sense to their community investment rather than an individual’s personal interest, or a more philanthropic approach.

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