Planning CSI with a business mindset

Now that you’ve decided that your company’s approach to CSI is going to be strategic, meaningful and that you’re in it for the long-term in order to benefit both your company and community development partners, it is advisable to have the following in place:

  1. Board-level and executive approval of the need for, and prioritisation of, best-practice CSI.
  1. A person or team dedicated to becoming skilled at successful CSI interventions and held accountable for this.
  1. A strategy that includes budgeting over the medium-term, consistency of types of development work to be supported, and agreement on geographic reach.
  1. Basic processes for partner project evaluation, project assessment, reporting requirements,  standard contractual forms to be used between funder and funded etc.

Now comes planning to implement the company CSI strategy.

The first thing to plan for is your company’s interests, over and above those of your CSI project partners (whether NGO, school, state institution, community organisation, or faith-based group).

Here are some things to consider:

Plan for the whole relationship from the get-go

  • This means planning for each stage of the journey of the intended relationship both to mitigate risks and to affect the greatest possible impact in development work.

It is useful to know upfront what can be expected as measurable outcomes from the relationship and, wherever possible, to include these in a contract entered into with the beneficiary organisation. That agreement should include reporting requirements, deadlines, roles and responsibilities and length of commitment.

  • Here, it is useful to note that many development organisations find themselves over-burdened by differing donors requiring quite different reporting from them.

When this happens, implementing partners (let’s just call them “NPOs” for this discussion) can get bogged down by spending too much of their time putting together too many different kinds of reports for different people, rather than getting on with their actual work of community upliftment. This is a special problem when the things they’re asked to report on aren’t even that relevant to the work being done, or to their mandate.

  • We should plan the monitoring and evaluation reporting in practical steps before the relationship between company and NPO is formalised. Common sense is the best guide in balancing a natural tendency by people being funded not to want to over-burden themselves with reporting, with the mutually-beneficial needs of both partners being able to track project progress and outcomes.

Plan for long-horizon success

  • This planning and risk mitigation should include the donor actively publicising the project to other potential donors – whether State, business or individual – so that they may be attracted to adding their support to it. Bringing in other donors always lowers project dependency on any single donor and is always far less risky than falling for the temptation of being seen to “own” a particular good work. If you own it in the public’s mind, it’s difficult to leave it, even when it’s doing things you can’t control.
  • The same applies to naming things. It is often wise to avoid the temptation of naming a project or facility after your company, even when this is offered by a grateful NPO that may feel it has little else to give you in return for your financial support. You name it; you own it – while the real reward you seek isn’t in that form of branding, but normally in the project’s actual and growing positive results in the lives of its beneficiaries.
  • If you are able to, then add on to your financial support for a project by planning to include company expertise you may have in securing an NGO’s future in nonfinancial ways. Without wanting to impose solutions or to inadvertently add administrative burdens onto partner NGOs, it may be a welcome thing of long-term benefit to offer in-house company expertise in upskilling an organisation’s management, financial controls, planning, marketing, or fundraising functions.
  • After all, people working at often below-market pay in, say, childcare work, don’t often choose this because of the skills just mentioned – their focus is on children. You may be able to strengthen their operation in practical ways of long-term benefit.
  • Where you can’t offer such on-site assistance, then planning to fund an NGO’s organisational capacity building as a great alternative. Most NGOs never ask for this in their funding applications, some because they assume it won’t be funded, and some because this often critical need isn’t even realised. To include capacity building in relevant NGO funding relationships can make for excellent CSI and lower donor risk.

A key point is to realise that the developmental and local expertise belongs ultimately to the project implementer, not the money/ resource provider. Therefore, in reality, both company and NGO are in the business of empowerment in symbiotic ways.

  • Paul Pereira, WHAM! Media. This article is extracted from Nation Builder’s “Re:Calculating your Giving”. Download the full publication at

https://proudnationbuilder.co.za/resources/.

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