London’s Lord Mayor calls for businesses to help strengthen charities

Asking firms to step forward and get involved in all aspects of a community organisation, rather than dipping in and out, Alderman Fiona Woolf said more firms should get involved in all aspects of a charity’s work, thereby lifting its overall capacity in a sustainable way.

The move comes as City Action, the free volunteering brokerage service within the City of London Corporation which has facilitated over 10,000 City-based volunteers being placed within community organisations over the past decade, announces its plan to make capacity-building CSR volunteering a major focus over the next year.

Capacity building volunteering supports community organisations with their own infrastructure and staff development, which is transformative for both sides of the partnership, and can range widely across a charity’s functions. Examples include a HR director coaching a charity CEO with personnel issues, a senior executive helping a social enterprise to sharpen their business plan or a marketing team doing a pro bono rebrand.

City Action, which has been in operation since 1998, links City-based businesses with community organisations and social enterprises in the City and neighbouring boroughs, and hosts regular events to raise awareness and understanding about volunteering across sectors.

Fiona Woolf said: “There is no limit to the ways in which businesses approach CSR. Yes, they can make a real difference through donations and volunteering, but what is needed more is for businesses to immerse themselves in a community organisation, helping it to grow from the roots up. This means leaving nothing out when it comes to offering assistance and guidance, and constantly seeking new ways of doing this. Firms need to use their energy, imagination and talent to get involved in the ways which add the most value.”

The new call-out comes at a time when the City of London Corporation has launched the ‘Joining Forces’ toolkit, a good practice guide for corporate community partnerships which highlights existing successful relationships.

One example is the eight-year partnership between global financial services provider, Macquarie Group, and Streetwise Opera, a charity for the homeless, which has almost doubled in size since the partnership began.

Streetwise Opera is an award-winning charity that uses music to help homeless people make positive changes in their lives through a weekly music programme in homeless centres across England and Wales and by staging opera productions starring homeless performers.

The partnership began after a fortuitous meeting between a Streetwise Trustee and Macquarie at an event. At the time, Streetwise was a small charity looking to expand.

One of the first collaborations engaged Macquarie’s design resources to create a brand logo for Streetwise – a logo which is still used eight years on. A senior leader in the firm also worked with CEO Matt Peacock to get him thinking about how to develop the charity and Macquarie’s IT team volunteered to provide consultancy following IT issues when Steetwise moved offices.

David Fass, CEO, Macquarie Group, EMEA, said: “The Macquarie Group Foundation approach is to support the community in which we live and work so we are entirely led by our staff and their personal engagement. We get to know the organisations first, building trust and a relationship over time. Macquarie supports social innovation through capacity building in the sector and our relationship with Streetwise is an example of just that. We’ve seen the charity grow to eight full members of staff with projects now reaching across the UK and globally. We’ve enjoyed getting involved in an opportunity and watching it grow; putting time, energy and funding behind it.”

Bridget Rennie, Head of Development at Streetwise, said one of the best value examples of the success of the partnership was the initial logo review.

Rennie said: “In monetary terms it would have been way over anything we could have afforded ourselves and we wouldn’t have taken on a design firm to do that. It was great as we were building our profile to have a proper brand and well-designed materials.

“Macquarie offer us skills and resources we would never have ourselves. I’m pro the staff-engagement and improving charity skills – particularly for small charities where you don’t have that IT or HR department, you can learn from big corporates in those areas.”