Corporate social responsibility: a fact for companies, a challenge for associations?
CSR, a corporate commitment
Corporate social responsibility (CSR), also known as corporate social responsibility, is defined by the European Commission as the voluntary integration by companies of social and environmental concerns into their business activities and stakeholder relations. In other words, CSR is "the contribution of companies to the challenges of sustainable development".
It is therefore a voluntary movement of the company that will evaluate:
- its own products and services - by wondering, for example, if their products are accessible, eco-designed, recyclable, or if the packaging is economical, in plastic…
- its own corporate practices - by wondering, for example, if its suppliers are close to its factories, if the raw materials it uses are produced in a responsible manner...
- its own social issues - by wodering, for example, whether its employees and the employees of its suppliers are well treated - whether in terms of safety, social protection, diversity, integration, etc.
- its own governance - on subjects as vast as the organization of power, diversity in governance bodies, or the management of risks of corruption, fraud, and non-compliance with the laws and regulations in force in the countries where it operates.
In extra-financial criteria analyses, CSR issues are generally classified under the three pillars "E" for "Environment", "S" for "Social" and "G" for "Governance". Companies are also increasingly referring to the 17 Sustainable Development Goalsdefined in 2015 by the United Nations to define, monitor and report on their CSR objectives.
For many years, companies have been allocating budgets to CSR issues, through consulting, research and development, communication and marketing missions, in order to pivot their business models and practices towards more sustainability(1) but also to publicize their commitments. It can be said that for companies that have made this choice, these are profitable investments: for example, we can see that companies with the best ESG ratings have a strong stock market appeal and a strong employer appeal to young talent. The budget allocated by companies to CSR is all the more important as they start from a distance in this field or, on the contrary, that they are strongly committed to development sustainable. It is also easy to understand that a company will more easily allocate its CSR budget if it is profitable.
CSR and the non-market sector: the case of the Social and Solidarity Economy and general interest actors
But does this mean that CSR would be reserved only for the commercial sector, and that associations would not be concerned by CSR? Of course, the answer is no! Let's take a closer look at the actors of the Social and Solidarity Economy of general interest.
Associations and foundations are economically disinterested actors, working on essential issues affecting society as a whole and in its interest: it is therefore understandable that the service they offer to their beneficiaries is, in essence, in line with the themes of sustainable development. Whether these associations and foundations are active in the field of health, education, protection and aid to the most vulnerable, or whether they support culture and the arts, they are all, by "raison d'être", in the field of responsibility and sustainability. Thus, the alignment of their activities with CSR is self-evident.
Associations and foundations, good students by nature?
We can imagine that their commitment is also obvious in terms of their own environmental and social footprint, their governance, the management of their human capital... Indeed, for many associations and foundations, good practices are already in place.
Take the example of an association that supports people who are far from employment so that they can find a job: it will have some employees who were previously long-term unemployed. Let's take the example of another association that is interested in supporting the carers of sick people: it will take particular care of its employees who are themselves carers of sick people. A food aid association will strive to manage its food waste sensibly.
Moreover, following the example of companies, some associations or foundations have formed coalitions, such as the French Coalition of Climate Foundations (CFFC – “Coalition Française des Fondations pour le Climat”), which aims to invite foundations and endowments to become involved in climate change issues. On the occasion of its launch on 18 November 2020, a manifesto was made public(2).
Due to the decrease in public subsidies, associations and foundations are increasingly turning to private support from companies. And it may happen that these companies question their solidarity partners on the same CSR issues as their other stakeholders. For example, they will look at how human capital is managed by the association/foundation; they will look at the management of the risk of fraud and corruption, at the footprint assessment in terms of CO2; they will question the way in which power is exercised; they will study training, evaluation, control of volunteers, etc. Answering these questions can become a real headache for associations and foundations: good practices, which are often well established, are not always formalised, nor piloted, and even less highlighted in a CSR report. As we have seen, this approach requires a budget and time resources that the solidarity structures in question do not always have: they are mainly focused on their mission. It is a long-term investment, which will not have an immediate effect on the beneficiaries of the structures.
However, if these issues are properly addressed and explained, they also constitute a strong lever for attracting, retaining and motivating employees and volunteers. What is valid for companies is also valid for associations and foundations. But if associations and foundations do not have a budget to allocate to structuring and highlighting their CSR, how can they do so?
Venture Philanthropy may be a solution. This is a new form of support that adapts the principles of private equity (selection and financing of unlisted companies with high growth potential, among others) to the needs of the charitable sector. The idea is to finance associations and foundations, not by earmarking this or that project or action deployed in the field, but by financing them globally, so that they can invest in structural costs, in the service of greater efficiency, and therefore indirectly, of a better societal impact. These structural costs can partly cover the CSR budget of the association or foundation.
This new form of sponsorship would allow solidarity structures to gain in operational efficiency and CSR transparency. It is also undoubtedly a more responsible option, which takes into account the fact that projects in the field are only effective for their beneficiaries if the association or foundation is efficient and responsible in its structural functioning.
(1) or sustainability; adopting a sustainable development model that meets present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
(2) See the manifesto on the website of the Fondation de France, partner of the initiative (French only): https://www.fondationdefrance.org/fr/lancement-de-la-coalition-francaise-des-fondations-pour-le-climat
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