Is Philanthropy Still Integral to Corporate Social Responsibility?

When it comes to your corporate social responsibility programme, just how far should charity play a part in your strategy?

Charity has always been a hot topic for businesses.

As we move into new and uncertain times in this post-truth, post-industrial era it seems philanthropy is still as vogue as it was in Victorian times.

Yet the goalposts are moving.

Sodexo’s ‘2017 Be the Change CSR Survey’ revealed that 55% of employees are handed opportunities to ‘give back’ to the community and wider society by their organisation.

It’s a philanthropic approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR) that’s gaining momentum.

But, is it enough?

For anyone devising a corporate social responsibility programme, there’s every chance charitable giving will form a central part of it. But if that’s all you’re focusing on, you might need to take a closer look at your strategy, ensuring you know the differences between philanthropy and philanthropic CSR.

And, with frequent charity-related outrages and scandals dominating news headlines on a regular basis, we ask if there’s a new cynicism taking hold, making us question everything from charity giving to community projects?

And where could that leave your CSR programme?


What exactly is philanthropy? Well, it’s basically the act of giving money, goods, time or effort to a charitable cause.

Businesses who engage with philanthropy are usually giving financial assistance to a charity – for the CEO, that means handing over a large cheque to an organisation and getting a pat on the back for it. For everyone else…well.

For this reason, corporate philanthropy shouldn’t be confused with philanthropic CSR. This type of giving by businesses is often a one-way street with very little thought or engagement required.

You simply give a charity money and you walk away.

Yet when it’s played into part of a philanthropic CSR programme, the results are very different – there is an increased sense of purpose, improved employee morale and a general deeper level of people engagement all round.

That’s because CSR is part of an experience, not a one-off action with little meaning. And that can have an impact on an organisation’s bottom line – so everyone’s set to be a winner. 


As a nation, the UK can be proud of its giving record. In 2016, a whopping £10bn was donated to charity by Britons. That was reportedly way higher than our European counterparts. And businesses have their part to play in this. 

In fact, the largest single donation came from the great grandson of the founder of the Sainsbury supermarket chain, by way of a £40.5m gift to his charity the Gatsby Charitable Foundation to promote education, science, public policy and the arts.

In addition, more than 300 people, foundations and companies gave £1.8bn in gifts of £1m or more, according to a report by Coutts, the private bank used by the royal family.

All well and good, but what does that mean for the average Joe?

Well, we’re also keen to do our bit for charity. From millennials to older employees, Sodexo’s research tells us that we’re all up for giving back to the wider community.

Sodexo’s ‘2017 Be the Change CSR Survey’ survey reported that 40% of employees aged 45 and over would like to be given more opportunities to ‘give back’ to the community and wider society than they get at the moment.

Millennials are reportedly giving more generously than any other generation before them. But they’re also doing their homework and there’s a view now that people want to see results.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, where donations weren’t getting to the survivors fast enough, charities will be under closer scrutiny than ever before. 


For employers, ‘giving back’ is certainly a more complex art than it used to be.

The problem is, charitable organisations have continued to be rocked by scandals like the use of illicit tactics that were said to drive charity fundraiser Olive Cooke to her death in 2015. Then there was the government bailout of Kids’ Company in 2015.

With new legislation brought in to make sure charities operate within proper limits, you’d think the headlines would have stopped there. 

It hasn’t helped that Oxfam and Save the Children’s leadership has been brought into question, along with the Presidents Club’s outrageous revelations that also left us questioning how and where money is raised.

The truth is, our confidence in charities has been knocked.

What your business does and who it associates with, needs to be carefully thought about. Your approach to CSR certainly needs to be authentic and meaningful. If you can tie your philanthropic CSR into the brand’s values and purpose, so much the better.

So, where to start?


According to Sodexo’s report, Cone Communications revealed that 83% seek corporate-led volunteering activities and 81% want company-wide days of service.

In addition, 65% would be more likely to work for an employer that encourages and promotes volunteering.” (CIPD and NVCO), with 76% saying it has a positive influence on how they feel about their employer (Employee Volunteering).

If you give employees days off to ‘give back’ to local communities, you can reach new talent and attract job seekers to your business. A robust commitment to volunteering isn’t just a great talent retention tool – but it certainly helps. 

In fact, 70% of FTSE 100 companies now offer volunteering programmes to their employees (Adecco), making it one of the hottest trends in CSR right now.

We totally get it. It gives employees the control to say, ‘this is what I want to do’ and feel good as they do it. It’s an experience that brings people closer to their organisation. And for businesses, it lets you have transparency over how you’re helping the greater good.

As we’ve indicated, while popular, charity corporate events alone won’t create people engagement in quite the same way.

By offering up volunteering opportunities that matter to individuals, you can create vital workplace engagement and even turn your CSR programme into powerful staff incentives.


While philanthropic acts are in demand from employees, organisations also need to do their bit for the community and society as a whole. 

As Sodexo’s report states, a company needs to display a commitment and effectiveness within the local, national and global community in which it does its business.

Ask yourself, if you’re a restaurant or supermarket, are you donating unused food to local community projects? If you’re a timber merchant, what are you doing about helping to reforest the planet?

We could go on.

We’ve all seen how coffee giants like Costa have been caught out by the fact their coffee cups are made of unrecyclable materials. Sure, you may have a fancy community project giving back to farmers in Africa, but if you aren’t making a positive difference to the planet on a daily basis, people will see right through you.

It’s this kind of helpful thinking backed up with actual gestures, where organisations can differentiate themselves by working with the community around them to create a positive impact on the world. And of course, these examples can largely be applied to most sectors and industries.

Get this right and your CSR programme will carry more weight than if you solely focus on charitable acts alone. While the latter might tell the world that you’re a good, honest company, an integrated approach to sustainability will show them you are, too.


Sodexo’s report contains exciting news for HR and management. It lifts the lid on ways CSR can feed into incentives and rewards.

As an employee engagement solutions expert, Sodexo can confidently talk about their involvement in countless incentive programmes that successfully integrate corporate values and leverage CSR as an employee reward.

If organisations recognise employees for their contribution to social and environmental initiatives in some way, HR and management can integrate CSR into their staff recognition schemes – and the business rewards will be long-lived.

Employees will see how giving can truly make a difference beyond the good deed itself, bringing about lasting feelings of self-worth and camaraderie at work, even improving quality of life and boosting productivity in the workplace.

Businesses who embrace philanthropic CSR policies will begin to stand out as the go-to employers of choice. And that’s something everyone can get behind.

Be the Change - Inspiring and incentivising employees