3 June 2016 | By David Picton Community

Give and gain

Carillion research highlights that successful community engagement is about mutual benefit

The notion of corporate responsibility has changed rapidly in recent years. Leading companies are not only delivering on their promises of responsible business, but are demonstrating a clear sense of purpose and relevance through the impact of their activities. At Carillion, for example, we achieved our 1,000th work placement last year through BITC’s Ready for Work, showing how this programme can change lives.

The emphasis is now on offering benefit to all parties involved – whether that’s the communities where you operate, your customers, staff or shareholders. With this in mind, Carillion commissioned a six month study to delve into the relationship between businesses and communities in the UK today. What emerged was the need to strive for a true Partnership of Equals.

In essence, the research identified a mismatch in interactions between businesses and community groups or charities, with both sides identifying gaps in forming beneficial, sustainable partnerships. Two-thirds (68 per cent) of respondents felt that businesses were unsure what support to offer charity and community groups, while 57 per cent of those groups didn’t really understand how businesses could best help them.

Part of the problem stems from a traditional tendency for relationships to be built simply on money. While financial donations are of course important in supporting community and charity groups, the most effective collaborations have a balance between contributing skills and contributing money. This brings learning and skills development to both sides of the partnership.

Three-quarters (72 per cent) of respondents in our research said that skills-based contributions would benefit their organisation. It makes clear sense that offering up true professional advice, time and skills will offer greater value to resource-poor non-profit groups – for example, deploying a team of accountants to help with a charity’s finances will always be more beneficial than sending them out en masse to paint a fence.

If the right balance is achieved, trust and long-term benefit can help shift the relationship from the traditional give-and-take approach to a model that inspires more “give and gain” interactions.

The business benefit

Our research showed that businesses which invest in communities can achieve genuine cultural and commercial gains. Nine out of ten respondents (91 per cent) believed that working with communities benefitted employees by developing new skills and offering new experiences. Taking this further still, community engagement was said to bring additional positive benefits through improved job satisfaction, morale and productivity, all of which help to recruit and retain the most talented people.

In response to some of the issues and opportunities uncovered by the research, Carillion is committed to rolling out a five-step Partnership of Equals action plan. A major focus of this will be on creating a national network of 50 strategic charity ambassadors, as well as identifying and trialling an appropriate platform to match skills with needs.

Once we’ve tested the effectiveness of our approach with our national charity partners, this will help to assess the scope and options for wider skills-to-need brokerage. At Carillion we are committed to the business of community, existing with the core purpose of creating places and services that stand the test of time.


Discover more about Partnership of Equals.