Charities must improve CSR and sustainability to restore trust in the sector - report

The largest charities should do more to publicise and promote a commitment to corporate and social responsibility (CSR) and environmental sustainability to help restore trust in the sector, according to a report from Forster Communications. It suggests that while sustainability and CSR are now mainstream concerns within businesses, among many larger charities a commitment to them “is an aspiration rather than a reality”.

Researchers at Forster examined the annual reports, websites and LinkedIn profiles of the top 100 fundraising charities in the UK, to see if sustainability or corporate responsibility policies or plans were publicly available, or if these terms appeared in any staff job titles. They found that only two (CRUK and RNLI) had a publicly available corporate responsibility policy; while only ten per cent of the organisations reviewed had a named sustainability lead.

The researchers found that where corporate responsibility was mentioned it referred to the businesses charities worked with, rather than the charities themselves; and that within web pages and annual reports the term ‘sustainability’ was most commonly associated with finances.

Some readers may find such findings a little irritating, particularly the idea that the charity sector might be considered less ethical, or less socially or environmentally responsible than the private sector. Nonetheless, these findings should not be dismissed out of hand. The report suggests this is an important issue because the charity sector needs to do more to mitigate the damage caused by fundraising and governance scandals that have undermined public trust in the sector. As its authors state: “How charities operate and how ethical and honest they are form the key drivers for public trust, over and above the impact they make in terms of their mission.”

The report makes nine recommendations on how organisations could address and improve approaches to CSR, sustainability and leadership, so that “their methods match their mission”. The recommendations are based on lessons drawn from the work of charities including CRUK, Who Cares? Scotland, Oxfam, Sightsavers and Autistica. The report can be downloaded at

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