Community investment is at the core of CSR for many companies. But the most successful projects are built on strong partnerships with local organisations, says Zoe Powers
Community investment is a mainstay for many of us engaged in sustainability and corporate social responsibility activity. It is widely understood that partnering with others is often essential for making this particular endeavour successful and impactful.
These are fine words that make logical sense, but for those just embarking upon a community investment programme, partnering with new organisations may seem daunting. We have been actively collaborating with our local community for nearly 50 years and so wanted to share some of our thoughts on establishing successful partnerships.
Carefully planning your community investment programme is essential – and that means being clear about your aims and expectations, the causes you are prepared to support and, therefore, the type of organisations you want to partner with. We decided from the start that we would only work with charities and schools in our local community.
Taking the time to understand what both of you would like to get from the partnership is critical. We share with the local charities we work with a desire to support and improve our local community. For our school partners, there is a mutual commitment to sustainability and supporting the next generation of decision makers in understanding the globalised world.
Thinking through how you are going to work together is very important. Be clear from the start what resources – time and money – are available from both partners and what internal and external communication channels are to be used. We ringfence the budget for our community investment programme annually, so we are clear with our partners exactly what is available at the start of each year.
Roles and responsibilities
Deciding which partner is responsible for what, and who is to lead on and support this work, is essential from both perspectives. It is likely that you will need to revisit this question, particularly as expectations shift and delivery requirements change. As our lead for sustainability, I act as the dedicated point of contact within the business; however, we are mindful of being inclusive, meaning others throughout the business are also involved.
Community investment impact
Agreeing from the off what success looks like for both partners is critical when deciding how to measure and assess progress. This should be built into your planning before delivery even begins. For our sustainability education work, success is based around student engagement and their learning.
Clear and honest communication underpins the success of any partnership – and community investment partnerships are no different. Agreeing from the start how and what you are going to communicate between yourselves, both internally within your organisations and externally with your respective stakeholders and audiences, is helpful.
The last and most important aspect of developing partnerships with the community is the creation of shared value – the partnership must be mutually beneficial to all involved.
Zoe Powers is a member of IoD London
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