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Businesses Need to Preserve Voluntary Sector Links

In a recent report commissioned by the Cabinet Office, the Building Stronger Communities Task Force called for urgent action to build closer links between businesses and the communities in which they operate. The report, "Business and the Third Sector, Innovation in Tough Times" contains three priority recommendations.
  1. Build closer connections between the business and third (voluntary) sector at a local level introduces the idea of businesses to calculate and communicate their local community footprint. This includes local employment, local energy efficiency programmes, training placements, corporate volunteering, social enterprise suppliers and skill sharing with the third sector.
  2. Responsible downsizing. This calls on government to provide fiscal incentives for companies to continue community initiatives when downsizing, it also calls for businesses to encourage innovation in local third sector supply chains and to share their experience in responsible downsizing.
  3. More innovation and greater interaction with government, the voluntary (or third) sector and businesses.
According to taskforce chair, Dame Julia Cleverdon, (also the vice-president of Business in the Community) a business's local behaviour --with employees, suppliers, consumers and the third sector -- "shapes its reputation as much, if not more than, national flagship programmes and corporate videos".

The government response is expected in October 2009.

But why should businesses take any notice of this report or its recommendations?

There are a number of issues for businesses to consider:

Employee motivation, retention and productivity: Encouraging staff to get involved in local volunteering improves morale, makes people feel better, reduces absenteeism and leads to greater staff retention and productivity.

Surveys by CSV and Timebank provide significant evidence to support this:

  • 83 percent of employees say that they would prefer to work for a company with an employee volunteering project than one that doesn't.
  • 88 percent of employees feel that employee volunteering has improved staff morale.
  • 18 percent say that they feel healthier and had fewer sick days since volunteering through work.
  • 22percent say they are less likely to leave a job where there is an employee volunteering scheme.
Upsizing and downsizing When a business goes up or down in size, it's bound to affect the local community. Visible engagement with the community will help to attract potential employees when recruiting. Downsizing during the current recession makes it inevitable that some redundant staff may find it difficult to get another job immediately. Volunteering offers an alternative to employment for some in the short term, and allows people to leave with dignity and retain their self-esteem.

Customers are starting to expect community engagement Any businesses wanting to supply to public sector bodies are likely to be asked questions about their contribution to communities. "Social clauses" in public sector procurement contracts are being implemented by some bodies, requiring their suppliers to actively demonstrate their contribution to communities. The retail market is more fickle and very price-focused right now but as we emerge from recession, a more responsible attitude towards employees and communities is likely to be a differentiator in future.

(Pic: alexindigo cc2.0)