Belfast Briefing: charity begins at home but really takes off at work

More people want to work for organisations ‘where they can make an impact on causes they care about’

Sandara Kelso-Robb, strategic adviser of Giving Northern Ireland, and Dr Gareth McGrath, director of Politics Plus, greet Prof Angela Eikenberry, Fulbright scholar at the University of Birmingham, who gave a special lecture on the meaning and impact of philanthropy at Parliament Buildings as part of Philanthropy Fortnight. Photograph: Paul Moane / Aurora

Sandara Kelso-Robb, strategic adviser of Giving Northern Ireland, and Dr Gareth McGrath, director of Politics Plus, greet Prof Angela Eikenberry, Fulbright scholar at the University of Birmingham, who gave a special lecture on the meaning and impact of philanthropy at Parliament Buildings as part of Philanthropy Fortnight. Photograph: Paul Moane / Aurora

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New research suggests that people who work for companies that give them the opportunity to put their “professional and leadership” skills to good use outside of the office are often more inspired at work.

According to BeyondMe, a UK initiative which aims to encourage young professionals to be more philanthropic in their own backyard, a growing number of people want to work for organisations “where they can make an impact on causes they care about”. They want to be able to combine a career with doing some good and the latest study from BeyondMe shows that businesses that offer their employees the opportunity to do more than fulfil their job description have a better chance of holding on to them.

Its latest “Generosity-Profit Logic” report highlights a growing trend that shows more of the working population believe businesses have a “duty to commit” to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The report also suggests that employees are more likely to be “proud” of companies with a strong CSR ethos and that those who volunteer outside of the office also build professional and leadership skills.

‘Giving back’

City Philanthropy, another London-based project which aims to promote philanthropy among young professionals, says more companies are starting to recognise how “giving back” to the community they work in or sell to can boost their business.

“Aside from the clear benefit of helping worthy causes, corporate philanthropy can improve the recruitment and retention of staff, set businesses apart from their competitors and help them to connect and communicate company values with important stakeholders,” the organisation states.

Angela Eikenberry, a leading US academic and one of the authors of the “Generosity-Profit Logic” report, is in Belfast today to take part in Northern Ireland’s “Philanthropy Fortnight” which aims to celebrate and encourage a culture of giving in the North.

Dr Eikenberry, who is also a Fulbright scholar, says there is clear evidence that both employees and customers expect more of companies today.

“Consumers for example are thinking of their purchases as a form of political action and that puts demands on companies and corporations, but equally CSR is becoming an important motivator for employees. It helps them feel that they are making an impact in society that they are engaged in something valuable – and not just making money for someone else,” she says.

Eikenberry believes that organisations which actively encourage employees to volunteer on their time or support projects outside of work hours can accrue goodwill from their staff and benefit from positive recognition for their actions. “It can’t just be window dressing – consumers and employees have a healthy degree of scepticism so they will see beyond it if the motivation to do something isn’t genuine,” she says.

According to Giving Northern Ireland, an organisation which champions philanthropy and giving, there are many examples of projects supported by high net worth individuals and local firms. The McClay Trust is probably one of the best-known local charitable trusts which has donated millions to good causes.

Generosity

Sandara Kelso-Robb, who is the strategic advisor for Giving Northern Ireland, says the North is well known for its generosity. “We know that employers are very keen to keep their employees happy and that they support a huge number or charitable causes in Northern Ireland.

“We believe this improves both customer confidence locally because they see the impact in their own communities but it also has a very big impact on their workforce – what businesses do is very visible in Northern Ireland and it definitely delivers benefits if they see it through,” she says.

Kelso-Robb is also the executive director of the Lloyds Bank Foundation which this year celebrates 30 years of corporate philanthropy in the North.She says many people still believe that you have to “be a Warren Buffet” to really be a philanthropist.

“It is simply not true because anyone can give of their time, knowledge, influence, expertise as well as money – we want to encourage an increasing culture of giving in Northern Ireland,” she said.

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