On 6 February, ACEVO members gathered in London for one of our regular CEO forums. The question under discussion was ‘Do your methods match your mission?’ A panel of specialists – Precious Sithole, CEO of Social Practice ENT; Dr Ben Kelly, head of clinical research at Nuffield Health; and Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth shared their views and insights about social responsibility, mediated by Forster Communications’ director Peter Gilheany.
It was a thought-provoking session with plenty of questions from the audience. Here are the key takeaways of the day. Please do leave a comment or send us a tweet with your ideas and further questions on the theme.
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Beyond impact: people and planet
We are, of course, focused on the impact of the causes we exist to champion. Our impact is how we improve lives, and the reason why we embark on a professional journey in the civil society sector. And although impact is what motivates us and drives us forward, it should be seen in a wider context than just our organisation’s objectives: according to Precious Sithole, we need to make every effort to have people and planet sitting alongside each other. People means staff, stakeholders, funders and everyone that in some way or another is involved with your organisation. Planet means considering how your organisation may or may not contribute to major environmental issues such as pollution and climate change. People and planet need to be embedded in strategy and structure, rather than dealt with occasionally.
Our contribution to society does not offset the harm we may cause when putting our methods in practice. “We have to be careful not to create beneficiaries for each other,” says Precious. Is the harm of your ‘how’ contributing to the ‘what’ of another organisation?
It is not one department’s work
Paying attention to ethical methods is not solely a job for the senior leadership team or CEO. Although the example does trickle down from the top – from day to day actions such as properly using the recycling bins to due diligence like making sure all the staff of your suppliers are paid a living wage – the task of social responsibility needs to be on everyone’s plates.
One idea is to nurture a ‘champion’, someone in your staff who is passionate about social responsibility and eager to get involved (or a champion for each department, depending on the size of our organisation), to draft an internal policy, or even create a group of social responsibility champions from several organisations. As there is no ‘one size fits all solution’, a network of people with different experiences, jobs and priorities might trigger creative and sustainable solutions.
Is there ever a ‘good time’?
Impact, people and planet need to be a constant. We cannot leave people and planet for when ‘things are better’. ‘Better times’ rarely come, and if they come for some, they don’t for others. Let’s face it, if things were, in fact, better, there would be no need for many charities to exist.
The question always needs to be: are we doing enough?
Tension won’t go away
‘Are we doing enough?’ is, of course, a question that generates tension. Embedding social responsibility in your methods means working with tension. Civil society feels the social responsibility pressure harder than any other, as there is a duty on the sector to be more progressive – and a huge amount of media coverage when public expectations are not met.
Use the available guides
Benchmarking your individual and organisational values against the codes that are widely used in the sector can be step one on your social responsibility journey, as well as your staff’s and stakeholders’. There are many guides and codes of practice available for the sector (Charity Governance Code, Charity Digital Code of Practice, Civil Society Futures report among others that are not necessarily focused on the social sector such as the Sustainable Development Goals) and we should make the most of them.
When social responsibility becomes embedded in your ‘what’ and your ‘how’ rather than being dealt with as a separate thing, it will drive your organisation forward. You will be able to better deliver your charitable mission when it matches your methods. Doing this isn’t a project with an end date. Changing practice that is currently business as usual requires regular reflection and more importantly action. In that way habits can be changed and we can build a stronger civil society that has a greater collective impact.