Private sector support for charities ‘amounts to little more than a rounding error’

The average business in England gives just £456 worth of support to small charities and community groups each year, research has found.

This includes a total of £1.9bn in donations and £474 worth of pro bono support, including legal services, to charities with an annual income of below £25m.

But this equates to only 0.06% of all private sector turnover, according to the research carried out for the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, which has been created by think tank Pro Bono Economics.

The research found that while there are examples of firms and charities working closely together, “there are significant gaps in the relationship” and “the partnership is not operating at its full potential”.

“This new research shows that the average annual contribution to small charities from businesses in England amounts to little more than a rounding error,” said Pro Bono Economics director of external affairs Nicole Sykes.

“The average business in England donates the same amount of cash to small charities each year as they misplace from their petty cash. It’s no wonder high proportions of the public are sceptical of business’ efforts to paint themselves as about more than just profit.”

The Commission’s research involves a detailed study of 4,000 organisations, which also found that businesses give most support to charities for children and young people and focus attention on poorer urban areas.

BAME and rural charities miss out

Charities that are missing out include those support Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) as well as rural communities.

It found that “those charities that serve the interests of carers and people with learning difficulties are most likely to say that business supports them well, while those which serve BAME and rural communities are the least likely to be well supported”.

Just under three quarters (73%) of charities and community groups say they struggle to meet businesses.

James Timpson, chief executive of retailer Timpson and Commissioner of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society said: “There is no doubt that business of all shapes and sizes can and should do more.

“Businesses that put philanthropy at the heart of their outlook not only help civil society, they help themselves too.

“Showing empathy and kindness as a business will help you become an employer of choice and it will help you make more money because customers prefer to spend with companies that care.

“We have seen the great strides made by business in pursuit of other vital causes, such as sustainability and equal pay. The next great stride that business can take is to commit to a partnership with civil society. Investors may have a key role to play in this, as might transparency measures – as they have on other social issues.

“No matter how it is achieved, a strong partnership between business and civil society can only help to improve both communities and companies.”

Professor Tony Chapman, director of policy and practice at St Chad’s College,
Durham University, who carried out the research, added: “While the financial and in-kind support business currently gives to charities is barely a fraction of business turnover, their contribution is highly valued by the organisations and groups who work well with businesses.

“However, relationships that are formed seem to happen mainly by accident, rather than design, so there is room for improvement on both sides of the fence to build connections between sectors at the local level."

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