5: The response from business

The corporate response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been mixed. Some companies have responded quickly and positively to the new challenges: repurposing existing manufacturing facilities to produce necessary medical equipment, or using their products and services to support those on the frontline of the crisis.

Other companies, however, have responded less positively: either by failing to make additional efforts, or in some cases failing to support customers and employees which has drawn public criticism.

What companies do now is likely to affect them in the future, as existing and potential customers see how they respond and judge them accordingly.

  
Of course many businesses are struggling due to the crisis, but there are also many who still have the ability to give. In that context, the support that companies give to charities and civil society organisations during this time of crisis is not only an important part of meeting the needs of civil society, but also a crucial part of determining how individual businesses, sectors and the private sector as a whole are perceived as we go through a period in which many of the fundamental tenets of capitalism are being re-examined.

Key Ideas

Dormant and unused assets

Businesses should look to identify dormant or unused assets that sit on the balance sheet (starting with assets where there are less legal risks, such as unused vouchers) and use them to support civil society. The government could provide legal and financial guarantees to ensure companies are protected from future legal risks as an additional way to support this.
    

Giving campaigns

Use existing products and services to amplify charitable giving campaigns for free and provide match-funding. Many companies have the ability to reach large audiences or customer bases, and they could use this to help promote efforts to boost generosity in support of civil society now and over the longer term.

    

Top-up and refocus

Top up funding of own CSR and philanthropic vehicles, and refocus efforts on responding to the crisis (without hurting the sector and existing charity partners who also might have been impacted by the crisis and need more funding).

Though some companies will clearly have been negatively affected by the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, others are benefitting; and many sectors have also received generous packages of support from the UK government.

So whilst businesses face their own challenges, many of them are still in a position to continue supporting existing charity partners or to increase their corporate giving and CSR activity in order to support others

    
young special needs boy smiling
CAF polling during the first weeks of the pandemic revealed 6% of charities could not survive beyond a month of shut down, and 37% no longer than 6 months.

Further ideas

Defer payments and discounts

  • Defer payments or offer discounts, fee/price waivers or payment plans for products and services for all charity clients; in particular those on the frontline of the crisis e.g. foodbanks, charities helping NHS staff, single parents and older people. Business that can withstand current pressure could take a calculated hit to the bottom line with the option to re-coup money from their charity clients once the crisis is over, or government could top up the difference.

  
Dormant assets

  • Use physical company assets which are dormant to help with the crisis response (e.g. grounded airplanes to fly material for INGOs to nations in need).

  
Pledge payroll giving

  • Make a pledge to roll out payroll giving and provide match-funding, either in the short-term for crisis-related causes, or-over the longer term more broadly to help with the process of civil society rebuilding.

  
CEO role models

  • CEO’s to become role model givers to crisis-related causes and encourage others to join a pledge, potentially also linked to corporate bonuses in certain cases.

  
Speed up existing pledges

  • Move forward payment of money already pledged to address specific causes – e.g. the gambling industry has pledged to pay £100m towards tackling problem gambling, but that pledge could be realised now and directed instead toward the crisis response.

 
Shareholder donations

  • Ask shareholders to donate a small % of dividends to support charities and civil society organisations. Stock markets have taken a hit as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, so in the short term many investors and shareholders may have suffered losses. However, others will have prospered, and over the longer term losses may be recouped as markets rebound, so companies could ask their investors and shareholders to accept slightly reduced returns (potentially for a set period of time) in order to free up more resources to support civil society.
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