Alastair Mitchell: Want to be charitable? It's not just about money. Think beyond your company’s four walls


Huddle’s CEO and co-founder on responsible business in the modern age

This is an excerpt from SECURING BRITAIN: RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS – Innovationread online now

My key idea: Businesses should think beyond traditional philanthropy when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR). They can offer resources and staff time to the benefit of the charity and the business. But government must provide organisations with more guidance on CSR. More information is required – particularly for SMEs – on how to get initiatives started.

When building a business it’s all too easy to become all-consumed. You can spend every waking minute thinking about your financials and growth, and rightly so, as you’ve likely made a huge leap from working for somebody else to embarking on your own venture – and you want to ensure its success.

The amount of funding that’s required to take the company to the next level, the number of new hires needed to help teams scale, which territory you should focus on, and where to base your next office are just some of the questions that consume the thoughts of every entrepreneur – myself included.

However, once your company is off the ground, founders have a responsibility to not only give back to the people they’ve hired and the clients they’ve secured, but also the wider community. Beyond making money, companies need to step back and consider the social, economic and environmental impacts of the way they run their business.

The best corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes should be beneficial for long-term business success as well society at large. Today’s customers carefully consider how brands engage with employees, the local community and environment – not just on the quality and price of services and goods. According to the ‘Better Business Journey’ report, published by the UK Small Business Consortium, 88% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities to improve society.

88% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities to improve society

Many non-profits, particularly smaller organisations, don’t have access to the skills and assets that are readily available in the commercial sector, such as the latest technologies or large marketing departments that can help raise their profile. For this reason, Huddle created its Huddle Foundation programme and has been committed to giving non-profit organisations free access to our cloud collaboration service since its inception. The programme has now donated packages worth in total more than $10m to organisations and helped more than 1,500 non-profits worldwide transform the way they work by connecting networks of staff, fundraisers and volunteers.

However, while technology donations provide non-profits with valuable resources, the best philanthropic programmes are about more than simply donating technology. The donation of time, skills and expertise is equally important. Last year, Huddle extended the Huddle Foundation programme to offer every employee across all office locations two days per year donated time to volunteer and engage with local charitable causes, activities or events. Ultimately, such initiatives don’t just positively impact local communities, but also enable personal development opportunities for staff.

In order to get a CSR programme off the ground, business leaders need support from key champions within their company who are willing to help drive it. And it’s important to set realistic goals for CSR programmes from the outset. Try not to do too much, too soon. Giving fewer causes a greater proportion of time – so long as they’re the causes that employees feel most passionate about – is better than spreading resource too thinly. Once the programme is up-and-running, you can expand it further.

To help promote CSR and the role that businesses have to play within their local community and society at large, the government should provide organisations with far more guidance. More information is required – particularly for SMEs – on how to get initiatives started, what the expectations are, the minimal standards, and examples of best practice. Today, there’s a willingness from businesses to launch CSR initiatives, but a lack of knowledge as to how to get them started. Once companies have some clear guidelines in place, they’ll be able to give back.

Alastair Mitchell is CEO and co-founder of Huddle


Securing Britain Responsible Business - Innovation