Going the extra mile, how business supports charities

Research conducted for the Law Family Commission on Civil Society by Policy&Practice shows that businesses donated services and funds worth an estimated £2.4billion in 2019 to small charities and community groups – equating to around 0.06% of private sector turnover.

This includes £1.9bn in financial donations and around £474million worth of pro bono support such as legal services, in-kind donations such as the use of office space and employee-supported volunteering.

The study found that on average businesses across England donated £456 each year to charities and community groups with annual income below £25m. While there are many examples of businesses and civil society working closely together, this latest research suggests there are significant gaps in the relationship and that the partnership is not operating at its full potential.

The detailed study of 4,000 organisations by University of Durham’s Professor Tony Chapman for the Commissio

n also found that:

  • Businesses give most support to charities for children and young people and focus attention mainly on poorer urban areas. Those charities that serve the interests of carers and people with learning difficulties are most likely to say that business supports them well, while those which serve BAME and rural communities are the least likely to be well supported.
  • Charities and community groups which received support from business are generally positive about their experiences, with 84% saying businesses trusted them to be well organised and professional.
  • Three quarters (73%) of charities and community groups say they struggle with opportunities to meet businesses.

James Timpson, CEO of Timpson and Commissioner of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, said: “We have seen the great strides made by business in pursuit of other vital causes, such as sustainability and equal pay. The next great stride that business can take is to commit to a partnership with civil society. Investors may have a key role to play in this, as might transparency measures – as they have on other social issues. No matter how it is achieved, a strong partnership between business and civil society can only help to improve both communities and companies.”

Mitch Oliver, Global VP Brand & Purpose at Mars and Commissioner of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, said: “It has never been more important for business and civil society to pull together. By working together, we can be stronger and accelerate the recovery from a pandemic that has sadly slowed progress in many of the areas that we all care about. The mission to secure a healthy planet, an inclusive society and a world where everyone is thriving is strengthened when business and civil society collaborate.

Nicole Sykes, Director of External Affairs at Pro Bono Economics, said: “Purpose has become a watchword in every business boardroom in recent years. Customers, investors, shareholders and employees all expect a commitment to social good. But business’ efforts will fall short if they fail to work with civil society. This new research shows that the average annual contribution to small charities from businesses in England amounts to little more than a rounding error. The average business in England donates the same amount of cash to small charities each year as they misplace from their petty cash. It’s no wonder high proportions of the public are sceptical of business’ efforts to paint themselves as about more than just profit.

Professor Tony Chapman, Director of Policy and Practice at St Chad’s College, Durham University, said: “While the financial and in-kind support business currently gives to charities is barely a fraction of business turnover, their contribution is highly valued by the organisations and groups who work well with businesses. However, relationships that are formed seem to happen mainly by accident, rather than design, so there is room for improvement on both sides of the fence to build connections between sectors at the local level.”

Chaired by former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell, the Law Family Commission on Civil Society is created by Pro Bono Economics with the generous support of Andrew Law and the Law Family Charitable Foundation.

The report can be found here: Going the extra mile – how businesses work with the social sector (July 2021)