It’s December and the time of year when many charities are appealing to businesses to choose them for their Charity of the Year for 2020. We spoke to a number of representatives across the Sheffield City Region to find out why more and more firms are embedding corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their company culture – to the benefit of them, their staff and the charities themselves.

Carolynn McConnell, Business Connector Sheffield, Sheffield Business Together 

There’s something special about Sheffield. The level of philanthropy and the willingness of businesses to get engaged with the community and charitable support is on another level – I just don’t think you find it in other cities.

I’ve been on secondment to Business in the Community (BITC) for two years now. The focus of the last year has been on helping to establish Sheffield Business Together, encouraging businesses to get more involved with charities – but to be honest it’s been like pushing at an open door!

Sheffield Business Together unites like-minded businesses to collaborate, connect and share resources with charities to support people and communities. We’re committed to helping businesses achieve their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) objectives, help staff to volunteer, make giving back easy through our brokerage service and develop strategic projects to tackle social issues that no one business could deliver alone.

We launched in March at an event at Arup, attended by more than 70 businesses and now have an amazing steering group which includes founding businesses Arup, Arm, Henry Boot, Irwin Mitchell John Lewis, both the universities as well as charities Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS) who host SBT and South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation. Benchmark and Mantra Media have recently joined the steering group too.

It’s wonderful to have people like Louisa Harrison-Walker MD of Benchmark involved as her company have CSR embedded in their culture – their standfirst is The Ethical Recruiter. Mantra Media MD Johnny Pawlik also delivered a masterclass at our charity skills exchange and is delivering a digital workshop at one of the schools we workwith .  The enthusiasm of SMEs like Mantra and Benchmark has really blown me away – the amount of input and impact they have given their size has been incredible.

Our work with schools is all about social mobility. To make a targeted and focused difference we have partnered with a college and school in areas of low social mobility to help raise aspirations and attainment.

Research shows if kids have four or more encounters with an employer they are 86 per cent less likely to become NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training).  So for us to be able to send people into schools and colleges to inspire them and be role models is great. We are also hosting lots of workplace visits to broaden their knowledge of the jobs on offer and show them they are attainable.

From an environmental point of view, we have supported Hunters Bar Infant School’s #GoGoGreen campaign to improve playground air quality by implementing their ‘Green Fence’ to block and absorb pollution. I am thrilled to say 50 plus businesses and organisations were involved in making this happen including John Lewis, Arup, Irwin Mitchell, Voluntary Action Sheffield, Henry Boot, Irwin Mitchell, BITC, and Arm – and we’re now evaluating and exploring how we scale this across the city.

Paul Fletcher, Managing Director at telemarketing contact centre, CC33

Community is at the core of our business at CC33 and one of our key aims is to regularly get our team involved in CSR initiatives. Fundraising for charities, no matter the cause, can be a great way to get the team together to have some fun whilst still doing something worthwhile.

Each quarter, our staff vote for charities that eventually become our chosen charity. Some of the examples our team have chosen over the past year include The Alzheimer’s Society, MIND, Breast Cancer Care Awareness Month, Macmillan Cancer Support and The Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

This December, our staff have chosen ‘Alone for Christmas’ – a local charity with a mission to support people who would typically spend Christmas alone with a Christmas dinner and some much-needed company.

We’ve come up with a variety of ways to raise money in the office including hosting cake sales, fancy dress days, dress down days and raffles. Our superstar footballers have also taken part in charity matches at Bramall Lane and Hillsborough!

We don’t just limit our CSR efforts for local charities as the team have also got stuck into national fundraising campaign, Children In Need. Our Rotherham and Sheffield teams took part in pyjama days and superhero-themed fancy dress days. Alongside this, our Rotherham office have held raffles and have even taken part in their very own Bake Off! Our Sheffield offices have also been getting in on the action – hosting duck races and cake sales.

CSR is fully engrained in our business ethos and as a company who champion strong team values we’re delighted to support as many local and national charities as possible.

Rachael Dawes, Corporate fundraising manager, Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, North Anston

In my eight years with Bluebell Wood I have worked alongside many inspirational local, regional and national businesses who understand the true values of giving.

Without them, we simply couldn’t raise the £4million we need every single year to keep our doors open.

These companies do far more than fundraise on our behalf. They encourage their staff to give us their time.

Their workers come as corporate volunteers; they help to maintain our six acres of land, look after thousands of people at our biggest fundraising events, and support our charity shops.

Others come to our North Anston hospice to share something equally invaluable – their knowledge and expertise.

Skills Shares mean we get to benefit from the years of on-the-job training and wealth of experience people have built up during their careers.

In addition, every corporate supporter increases awareness of the hospice in their community.

People not familiar with CSR might think: but why would bosses want their workers to do this, instead of the jobs they are paid to do?

We know the answer because we see it every day, not only in the faces of our children, young people and families, but also in the faces of our corporate fundraisers and volunteers; the benefits go full-circle. There’s a feel-good factor to giving.

Companies who go above and beyond to support charities, and encourage their staff to do the same, are proving their business focus is not solely about making a profit. They are doing their bit to make the world a nicer place and support the less fortunate. What employee wouldn’t feel proud to be part of a company which encourages that?

I’m not surprised to read that research shows a CSR strategy increases employee engagement and has a positive impact when recruiting.

The strong partnership the hospice has with the Sheffield headquarters of IT solutions specialists Insight UK is a wonderful example of CSR working for all.

Insight made Bluebell Wood its chosen charity in 2016 and three years on, is still with us. Its staff have raised more than £132,000 from fundraising, donation of IT equipment and volunteer days and more.

We work with them to make it easy for them to help us and always remember their day jobs have to be their priority.

We urge more companies to visit the hospice, find out what difference their support can make and consider making us their charity of the year, or charity partner.

Gill Swain, Sheffield-based HR director for Insight UK

One of our core values at Insight UK is ‘heart’. We aim to support each other and make a meaningful difference every day and that extends to our partnerships, charities and the community.

CSR has been high on our agenda for many years. We have a policy of giving staff two days a year and have worked with numerous national and local charities and community projects. However, when you find a charity that goes right to the heart of practically every member of staff, the effects are truly astonishing.

Over the last three years, we have built a special connection with Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice. It became our Charity of The Year in 2016 – a number of people in our 407-strong Sheffield HQ had a child in the family who was being cared for there and told colleagues how special it was.

At first, people were really nervous – they expected a place of sadness they would come away from feeling distressed. The reality was so different. We see the love and patience the parents, staff and volunteers show the children and feel humbled and warm-hearted. This has had a massively positive effect on our culture. It has unified us.

Right across the teams, people are willing to work together for fundraising activities. We know that everything we do for the hospice helps; this makes us feel good and creates a happier workplace.

I have never seen such positivity for a charity from our employees. Pre-Bluebell, uptake was low for those two volunteering days a year – now, it’s quadrupled and a number of staff give their own time too, working weekends to steward at hospice football matches and take part in fundraisers.

Global Account Manager, Owen Jenkins, has even become a regular volunteer with the Siblings Group, whilst Sales Manager, Dan Olsen-Saaler, ran an extreme 75-mile marathon in 24 hours to raise over £1,300. Other staff have walked the Great Wall of China.

We all feel really proud to have raised £132,000 in three years and prouder still of the awards that have come along because of it – Most Creative Fundraiser in the 2018 Master Cutler’s Challenge, and two wins already in the national Great Place To Work 2019 awards.

A huge part of being a Great Place To Work comes from what we have gained by working with Bluebell Wood. I hope we can inspire other businesses to follow suit. Every employer has a responsibility to support their local community, but helping and encouraging your employees to do that builds workforce unity and pride.