Community affairs: whither, or wither?

Mike Tuffrey

 

Posted in: Community

Community affairs: whither, or wither?

June 01, 1992

This year is the tenth birthday of the founding of Business in the Community and July 8 saw some three hundred business leaders gather in London to mark the event. Of course, BITC did not invent corporate community involvement in 1982, nor indeed did Michael Heseltine in 1981 on a coach trip round Liverpool, as one might have thought from his speech on July 8. Still, anniversaries are good times to take stock and think ahead.

Unfortunately soothsaying is not that easy, hence the popularity of surveys. By questioning a sample, these yield neat percentages to predict the future. Community Affairs Briefing included a Readers’ Survey in Issue 4 with a section on current organisation and plans for corporate involvement. Here we share the findings, as a small and limited contribution to the debate about the future.

Growth

Asked about investment in community affairs activities over the next year or so, two thirds reported they expect an increase in real terms. A strong result at the best of times, this is remarkable in the depths of the recession. The finding is confirmed, however, in the detailed replies about subject areas (education, environment, etc), where plans to do more far exceed likely reductions.

Priorities

Education/training and enterprise/small business top the list of current priorities (see Table 1), with a strong showing for education, equal opportunity and disability issues. In contrast animal welfare and international questions, including third world and eastern Europe, are accorded low priority at present.

According to the sample, environment and education/training are the issues of the future, with well over half the respondents reporting plans to do more. Equal opportunities and international issues are also set for a boost, with a third or more anticipating growth in activity on disabilities, youth and Eastern Europe.

The necessary rebalancing within programmes is likely to be at the expense of general charitable support and, to a lesser extent, arts and culture.

Communication

The Readers’ Survey included a section on the organisation and motivation behind companies’ communication strategies – an important benefit, and the easiest to measure in justifying community affairs expenditure.

Perhaps surprisingly, respondents report that customers are the most important target audience, followed by staff, government and opinion formers. Shareholders were not included on the checklist but a quarter of the survey wrote them in and accorded them a high priority. Perhaps the old attitude that the City is not interested in community affairs is finally changing.

Two thirds say they evaluate media coverage of their activities and survey staff attitudes, while half require a communications plan for each major project. Given the importance of evaluating success and demonstrating value for money, these results are disappointingly low.

Sample

A third of Community Affairs Briefing’s subscribers replied – a high figure for such surveys. Together they account for community affairs programmes, as measured by charitable donations declared in Annual Reports, well in excess of £24 million pa. As a comparison, this is about a third of the sample used by the Charities Aid Foundation for their annual statistics Charity Trends.

Briefing

The Readers’ Survey also included questions about Community Affairs Briefing itself. Briefing is now read by well over 500 people in companies and some 200 in the not-for-profit sector.

The sections What’s New?, Trends, Best Practice and Profile are rated the most interesting and useful. Greater coverage of international issues was called for, which we will endeavour to answer. There is also wide support for special edition on topical issues and specialist seminars.

Conclusion

As Community Affairs Briefing nears the completion of its first year, both the response to the publication and the replies to the survey give us confidence to assert that corporate community involvement will continue to grow and shows no sign of withering. As to “whither?”, that is for our readers to decide – we will simply report it as it happens.

Table 1

Importance Ranking

(average score on a scale 0 low – 3 high)

Animal welfare 0.24 17

Arts and culture 1.63

Disability 2.09

Eastern Europe 0.75

Education/training 2.24

Enterprise/small business 2.10 Environment/conservation 2.09

Equal opportunities 2.09

Health 1.86

Homelessness/housing 1.26

Inner cities/urban regeneration 1.60

International 1.12

Projects for the elderly 1.52

Rural affairs 1.24

Third World 0.83

Youth Projects (not education)1.73

General charitable support 1.80

Table 2

(average score on a scale 1 high – 8 low)

Customers 2.42 1

Suppliers 5.84 7

Staff 3.14

Government/legislators 3.24

Industry peers 4.62

Other opinion formers 3.69

Wider community 4.32

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 5 – June, 1992

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