Why Should More SMEs Take Part in CSR?

The Lord Mayor's Dragon AwardsThe Lord Mayor of the City of London, Roger Gifford, speaks about the benefits of volunteering to SMEs

At the start of 2012 there were over 800,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in London. Many of these are still to introduce volunteering to their business despite the benefits this can bring to both sides.

This is not because of a lack of desire on behalf of SMEs to introduce Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) schemes. Instead, it comes down to the perceived barriers that these firms are concerned they will encounter when trying to doing so: limited resources, lack of senior level buy-in and generally viewing it as a daunting task.

Involving staff in volunteering should be seen as an investment in the business. Introducing a CSR programme can deliver many business benefits in addition to making a tangible difference to the wider community. These include improved staff retention, a more motivated workforce, better procurement options and an extension of the business network. Other businesses are also more likely to work with companies that are socially responsible, due to requirements in their own CSR programmes, and so many businesses gain contracts as a result.

Each member of staff participating will gain the opportunity to develop strengths they may not have had the chance to otherwise. On the side of the beneficiaries, they get access to the skill set of motivated individuals working towards a common goal.

The City of London Corporation’s Dragon Awards, now in their 26th year, recognise excellence in CSR across Greater London and are a chance for applicants to share the work they have been carrying out in their communities.

Last year, the winners of the Dragon awards for CSR contributed a combined 163,565 volunteering hours, equating to a monetary value of some £3.8 million in community projects. Research collated by the City of London Corporation also reveals a dramatic shift in the type of volunteering that businesses are now completing- trends that seem to fit the dynamic approach of the SME sector.

Over the past decade, businesses have moved away from a tick-box model of donating cash sums and are increasingly focusing on training for employment.  In 2001, the percentage of Dragon Awards applicants prioritising training for employment stood at 20 per cent but this has since more than doubled to 45 per cent in 2012.

Last year, ethical construction company 8Build took home the Lord Mayor’s 25th Anniversary Award for its Giving Back scheme – providing training and careers workshops for young people – and is representative of the more hands-on, vocational and skills-building approach now taken to corporate volunteering.

The work they do with young people requires flexibility and creativity, as well as requiring staff to take on responsibilities out of their remit to make something a success.

Other successful SMEs that took back awards last year include Red Door Communications for their work with Body and Soul, a HIV charity, and Sapphire Systems for their work in reading mentoring and apprenticeships in schools.

SMEs are making a real difference. Last year 17 per cent of SME applicants took home a Dragon – an impressive achievement, especially when you consider that only nine per cent of large businesses won.

The work that SMEs undertake in this area typically has a personal approach – meaning that staff become more invested in the CSR process by seeing the results on the ground.

Applications for the Dragon Awards are now open – with a call to double the number of SMEs applying this year. Winning a Dragon Award for great CSR can help raise a businesses’ reputation as well as shine the spotlight onto a group of people, or individuals, that their CSR scheme supports.

Applications can be submitted online for all the award categories at www.dragonawards.org.uk. The closing date is 28th May 2013, and winners will be announced at the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards gala ceremony at Mansion House in the City of London on 2nd October 2013.

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