New research shows two-thirds of businesses active in their local communities as economy seeks to ‘grow back better’

1 June 2021

Two-thirds of East Midlands businesses now engage in social or community activities – with an increasing number seeing the benefits of giving back, according to a new report.

Research by East Midlands Chamber, in partnership with the University of Derby, found the proportion of companies that are involved in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity has grown from 60% in 2017 to 66% in 2020.

However, there are significant discrepancies between large firms and SMEs, with those not engaged in charity activity citing a lack of time and financial resources.

East Midlands Chamber published the research at its CSR Summit today (28 May), in which it explored ideas on how to encourage more businesses to get involved with meaningful community work.

The business representation group has also launched a new-look #EMComingTogether campaign to raise awareness of the positive impact businesses are having on their communities.

Chris Hobson, director of policy and external affairs at the Chamber, said: “The impact of the pandemic has been uneven in terms of the communities most impacted and, as the economy recovers, there is a chance to demonstrate how we can grow back better.

“While the biggest drivers for giving back among organisations are emotive, we’re beginning to detect that it’s becoming a more important part of business strategies. Four in 10 were seeking to build their profile and a quarter viewed it as an opportunity to develop staff.

“In fact, when asked on a scale of one to 10 how important community activity was to them achieving their overall strategic objectives, the average score given was 5.8. This suggests it’s not just something that people view as a nice thing to do, but is an integral part of their wider business purpose.

“Our #EMComingTogether campaign will show how it does make business sense as we seek to break down the barriers to community engagement for our region’s companies. But we also want to demonstrate how we can get more businesses doing more varied activity in a more impactful way – as this can only benefit everyone.”

East Midlands Chamber’s CSR research findings

The East Midlands Chamber and University of Derby research, which surveyed more than 400 businesses across Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, found nine in 10 large companies engaged in CSR activity last year, while the figure was 65% for small and medium-sized firms, and just under 50% for micro-businesses.

Engagement was highest in the service sector, in which 67% of businesses took part in community work, with manufacturing (56%) the least active.

The most popular CSR activity was one-off donations, but companies also offered skills, premises, structured volunteering opportunities and more regular donations.

The most common reasons for engagement in micro and small businesses were a personal link with a cause or altruism. In medium companies, there was a willingness to build community links, while staff development was slightly more prominent in large firms.

For those not engaged, the most common reason given in previous surveys was a lack of resources, being too busy or lack of interest. But in the most recent survey, the vast majority of respondents said they were “unsure”, suggesting broader awareness is needed across the region about what firms can do to make a difference.

Chris said: “The majority of companies we surveyed said their CSR activity will remain around the same level during the next three years, but there is evidence that companies with a more strategic outlook on CSR are planning to invest more into activities over the next 12 months.

“Businesses that currently don’t engage in CSR need more support to understand the benefits of doing so and where to start, particularly the smallest companies and manufacturers in general.”

Angela Tooley, Enterprise Development Manager at the University of Derby, added: “This report demonstrates the value and commitment that our region’s employers recognise in corporate social responsibility activity, particularly when it was most needed, during the pandemic and periods of lockdown.

“It is very encouraging to see that CSR activity has increased among many of these organisations, which in turn has brought the additional benefit of providing employees with opportunities for professional development and to support their own wellbeing.

“As we emerge from the coronavirus restrictions in the UK, this is the time to build on the momentum, for organisations to work ever more collaboratively across the region, with the guidance and input of the Chamber and the University of Derby, and to make a real impact on the quality of life in our local communities.”