BLOG: Making CSR the norm

On paper we’ve changed a lot since our CEO Jeremy Hyams founded the business over 20 years ago, not least growing from a staff of 3 to 300+. But, although we didn’t recognise it as such until recent years, we’ve been consistent in our approach to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). We’ve simply been supporting charities and getting our staff involved in fundraising and volunteering. Contributing to and being part of the community has always seemed natural to us, way before we realised that it’s actually a ‘thing’. We just did it because we felt it was the right thing to do.

For example, six years ago we started what has become a very productive relationship with youth education charity Stand Against Violence (SAV), becoming its main sponsor in 2014. Based in Somerset they’re local to our main office and their work was already known to many of our staff.

It was important to us that our involvement extended beyond cheque writing. We really wanted to make a tangible difference. So while we enjoyed running several fundraising days through the year, I have encouraged our staff to develop their own ideas for fundraising and involvement. Crucially, we give them the freedom to act on those ideas and even support them with time off. So last year when a couple of people said they wanted to record a single in aid of SAV, we gave them time, resources and support during working hours to make it happen. They did everything from lyric writing and performing, and we pulled in pro bono support from some of our suppliers and contacts for recording, video production and distribution on iTunes and Amazon. And while it was a particular group of staff involved in its creation, the whole company took immense pride in watching the inaugural performance at our staff awards last year.

We believe that by giving staff this creative freedom, we help to harness individualism and ultimately we empower them to make a difference. Participation in charitable actions demonstrates how their energy, creativity and enthusiasm can generate success which we see crossing over to their business roles where they also use their initiative to deliver outstanding results.

Our charity work is continually highly visible to our staff because it has buy-in at board level. Our CEO holds the role as a non-executive director of SAV and I have become a trustee, sitting on the board of directors to further strengthen its governance.

From a personal point of view, it is hugely rewarding to think my efforts are benefiting the next generation. Because we had already worked together, I really understood the charity and knew I could work with the team there. I think it is important that anyone considering such a role does their homework to ensure they understand the charity and that their values are a good match.

From SAV’s point of view, gaining financial support is crucial to survive and thrive in this climate. Let’s not forget that charities are in a competitive environment as well as businesses. The publicity which our fundraising activity generates gives them an additional boost. And we’ve been told that our governing roles within the charity itself are of huge importance to them, giving them on-tap advice and planning from a commercial perspective.

We’ve put this type of activity at the heart of our corporate values, one of which is ‘We care for our people’. In this we state: “Our colleagues, customers, suppliers, partners, clients and local community make us who we are.” Making this firm commitment at a corporate level helps employees respect the business, understand our vision and value our core principles. Colleagues take huge pride in their work, care and have empathy for everyone – and ultimately our customers – which means that they go the extra mile to make them happy.

Thinking about CSR has become the norm, and we support the community wherever we can. Last year, for example, when we held a black tie awards ceremony for our staff and suppliers, a member of staff suggested we order additional buffet meals to give to the clients of Taunton Association for the Homeless (TAH). We’re great advocates of the charity, and we knew it was something our staff would feel proud of doing. So we didn’t hesitate in saying yes!

Although CSR doesn’t actually appear on the balance sheet it certainly plays a huge role in our business, and it really makes a difference to every member of our staff and our bottom line.

Debbie Mawer is director of people and culture at specialist claims handling firm, Claims Consortium Group

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