Introduce a social purpose to business and reap the career rewards

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A programme that seeks to enhance charities’ work by introducing the know-how and vision of business leaders found that the businesses experienced gains as great as the charities. In short, companies can achieve take-off when they embrace a social purpose alongside their commercial objectives, writes Gillian Murray of Pilotlight.

It’s impossible to make a clear distinction between people’s personal and professional values and goals. In a similar vein, many are now questioning whether we should be striving to balance work and life (as polar opposites) or seeking to blend the two.

We’re all in the people business and a core tenet of recruiting and retaining talent is to cater for individuals’ career and personal needs. But the principle of marrying personal and professional goals isn’t always easy to achieve in the learning and development arena, especially when personalisation can be hard to deliver with available resources.

What if there’s a way to develop better leaders while making a measurable difference to society?

Sixteen years after launching the Pilotlight Programme we are confident that learning at the same time as effectively giving back is a win-win scenario. Having worked with almost 1,800 business leaders to date, we have measured the impact on their skills development, job satisfaction, health, wellbeing among other indicators. Key to the results is the difference their learning journey has made to inspiring charities and social enterprises.

Creating shared value

As a charity and social enterprise ourselves, Pilotlight supports charities to deliver more effective and efficient services for the people they’re set up to help. We do this through a fully managed coaching and mentoring programme between the leaders of these inspiring organisations and teams of business leaders drawn from different companies.

Most companies have a purpose and values statement and a corporate social responsibility policy. So supporting charities, to a greater or lesser extent runs alongside the business activities. What we have discovered is that by placing a social purpose initiative at the heart of companies – in HR – we can achieve significant results for our charities and also for our companies in meeting their recruitment, retention and talent development objectives. Some examples from our most recent impact measurement support this: 87% of business participants on our flagship programme report increased coaching skills and 79% say their leadership skills have improved.

Let’s put this in the context of what this means for charities: two years after taking part in the programme, they have on average seen their income increase by 46%, which by any measure (we use Charity Commission data) is both tremendously impressive and of course, very satisfying. These results are effected by leaders of some of the UK’s most successful companies who are finding career growth in stepping outside of their day job and learning from a completely different set of organisational challenges and client needs. And this receptiveness to continual learning and willingness to step outside their comfort zone is an essential mindset for all future leaders.

We have discovered that by placing a social purpose initiative at the heart of companies – in HR – we can achieve significant results for our charities and also for our companies in meeting their recruitment, retention and talent development objectives”

Charities face many of the same challenges as any business. The opportunity to use business skills and experience, which may appear to have a narrow range of application, to make a real difference to the lives of people is a powerful proposition. It broadens perspectives and supports the many studies that show doing good is good for us. Unsurprisingly therefore, in 2018, 94% of business members reported increased happiness and well-being and 72% increased job satisfaction.

Great talent and great causes

Aligning business and social objectives is a relatively simple notion. And skills-based initiatives have become more common, either alongside or replacing more traditional forms of business support for charities. We’re passionate about the difference our programmes are making and I’d like to share some background and learning around maximising the all-round benefits.

Pilotlight was set up because the small charity sector said it lacked business skills. And the idea of attracting business brains, successful in their own fields, to help was a fairly obvious response to this. However, we did consider the barriers to effective engagement and genuinely meaningful outcomes. In short, from the business side, this was lack of time, lack of knowledge about the charity sector and its challenges, and lack of understanding about how business skills could effectively translate into support.

In truth, our focus was initially on what we could achieve for charities. We didn’t realise the benefits would go both ways. It was feedback from our early adopter companies that made us understand what a great dual-benefit opportunity we could create. More programmes have been developed over the years but some fundamentals remain unchanged. One is assessing the readiness to change on the part of our charity partners – we do an amount of due diligence to ensure our programmes can genuinely add value. Another is our project manager role – key to overcoming the barriers listed above. And finally, a coaching/mentoring approach – we believe this is crucial to the sustainable impact of our programmes.

Giving your people the chance to support charities create change – whether that involves improved mental health for young people, reducing isolation for the elderly, better opportunities for disabled children and so on – while developing their own skills is a great way to make the professional, personal.

Gillian Murray

About Gillian Murray

Gillian Murray is chief executive of Pilotlight which she joined as a project manager in October 2005. She became deputy chief executive in 2007 and chief executive in 2013. She previously managed language schools in Italy and was acting country director for Voluntary Service Overseas in Laos
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