As our world changes at a seemingly increasing speed, the need for social change, purpose and responsible action is crucial for success, not only for organisations but for our society as a whole. Has the corporate world shifted away from the consumerist culture of “profit above all else” or is it all a ruse to make us think they’re the good guys?
Abigail Tompsett is a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Consultant who cares about making corporate and charitable partnerships meaningful. Working with organisations like Disney, Together For Short Lives, the BRITS, ITV, Soccer Aid and many more, she bridges charity partnerships across the commercial and third sector, bringing organisations with different objectives together to achieve mutual aims.
Let’s find out more...
Who are you and what’s your story?
I’m a CSR consultant for my own company Unify Consulting, which I’m so proud of. My first stepping stone was working for the BRITs, becoming a PA to Lisa Anderson at 21. Although it was heavily focused on music, it had a charitable element with the BRIT school and I felt I could give something back.
At the beginning of my career CSR wasn’t really part of an organisation that people talked about at the time but it was always on the sidelines. My career truly flourished when I joined ITV to work on Text Santa. To work on a big telethon really kick started my journey of understanding charities and relationships a bit more and it grew from there.
Text Santa 2014
After nearly eight years at ITV, starting off in production and then managing Text Santa as a project across the board, I left to deliver CSR campaigns on a consultancy basis. I’d always thought about it but never known if I was ready or knew enough to be able to offer advice. My journey at ITV showed me that I did. There was that scary moment of “is anyone going to ask me?” or “will people think they need it?". ‘Can you become a product that people want or feel they need, and what is the value of that?’ You’ve got to be confident that you can do it and that people do need your expertise.
What advice would you give to people who feel they might not be ready to take the plunge to consultancy?
Have a good peer group around you who believe in your skill set. It can be really hard to believe in yourself. You have to take the leap. Remember that you’ve come out of other employed roles and there was a reason for that. You’ve achieved in those roles so why is it different for yourself?
You help corporate organisations partner with charities and not for profit organisations. Why do you think more corporate organisations are seeing the value in such partnerships?
CSR has become so much more embedded into corporate organisations than ever before because they see the added value in what it brings. There are lots of business areas waking up to the value of CSR from a commercial and marketing perspective. There’s also a huge amount of understanding on the value it adds to a brand and it’s equity. There’s also a big push on the consumer side of things as they expect social impact from a brand in order to build their trust and loyalty. Corporates are starting to understand what that means to their brand.
The Edelman trust barometer shows that consumers are more trusting in brands that have contributed to society. There’s also a shift in corporates not just wanting a charity of the year partner but a more long-term strategic partner. It’s no longer just about raising money.
Text Santa 24-hour cycle
Do you think corporates really care or is it all about equity and money?
I think there’s a genuine shift in corporate behaviour. I don’t think it’s all just about brand loyalty or trust. Creatives are thinking about social good or pro social, so when they’re working on something it’s very regularly considered as part of the process. As CSR we’re brought to the table much earlier than we’ve ever been before. If it were merely about impressions and a strategy to keep customers then I don’t think it would feel as embedded across the organisation. It’s obviously better in some organisations than others. I have to say that the creative sector is the best demonstration of working with charities in a different way.
CSR is still a fairly new concept to some organisations. Why is that?
I think the pandemic has helped our collective social conscience. There’s never been a bigger sense of community across the world. It’s shifted behaviour.
I think it’s also generational. We are influenced by the values we grew up with, what we’ve learned from our childhood, and people coming into leadership roles. It’s a shift in behaviour because of who we are as people. Society has changed and people are increasingly able to give their opinions. It’s reflective of how society is changing and the influence of mass media can’t be ignored. How we’re allowed to access media now has allowed us to understand topics more, like in the ‘60s or ‘70s climate change just wasn’t talked about but then suddenly it was in your lounge.
Do you think corporate social responsibility is a key element of a business strategy? If so, why?
It’s important that it’s implemented into the wider business strategy. It should be an integration not a separate element and built into it along the way. The hardest thing is doing it afterwards. It can’t be standalone because if you move backwards then you have to get buy-in from all of the business. It’s a grey area - a lot of things meet in the middle and you need to be part of that journey along the way.
How do you see organisation’s partnerships affecting their brand and audience engagement?
When I worked for Together For Short Lives (TFSL) during their partnership with Disney, I helped the charity understand that Disney can do more than just raise money. CSR partnerships exist to achieve more than fundraising targets. There’s a shift in corporate organisations to have a positive impact in ways that aren’t financial. For example, at TFSL we organised a festive celebration for families supported by hospices that TFSL support. There was a journey to understand why that was beneficial as it wasn’t raising money. Fundamentally it was a way to help families to understand TFSL, as their direct relationship was with the hospice that they were supported by. It also helped the hospices to see TFSL’s value. Post event, the feedback was phenomenal. Families really enjoyed it and there were conversations that they felt they were at Disneyland, and that was something their family would never been able to do because of how poorly their child was. They wouldn't have been able to deliver that without Disney.
Can an organisation integrate CSR into their strategy without a dedicated department?
Maybe but you’d need a CSR consultant. It’s really important for someone to lead on it. Creating a CSR strategy with deliverables and KPI’s is key to ensure it isn’t seen as a greenwash in a marketing sense. You need someone with that skillset to manage it. Sometimes it comes from HR and there comes another question to ask: “Can HR become CR?” And then people realise it’s more than bake sales and face painting, and it grows from there. But for a full integrated strategy then no, you need specialist knowledge. People think they have written a CSR strategy but they’ve just agreed to raise £100k for a charity. You need a consultant to guide you through an overarching CSR partnership journey.
Together For Short Lives x Disney event
What’s a stand out moment from your career that made you feel like you were making a real difference?
I’m really proud of the journey through Text Santa - we raised £32million across five years. I felt so lucky to be part of that experience and to help the charities we did. For example in one year we raised enough to fund for over 50 guide dogs and cleared the Whizz-Kidz wheelchair waiting list. There were some amazing achievements and when you step back you realise you changed a lot of people’s lives.
What advice would you give to smaller businesses or solopreneurs who would like to start a partnership with a charity?
First of all you’ve got to do something that feels like it fits with your organisation, how does it help demonstrate your values as an organisation? Remember it’s not just about donating money, the first gift you have is you. Your skillset is of value to any charity. Charities are always looking for people to build comms, etc - you can start to build it that way. How can you give back with your knowledge? It starts with you.
Learn more about Abigail’s CSR consultancy here: www.unify-consulting.co.uk
To learn more about trust in the corporate sector check out these useful resources…
Edelman Trust Barometer: https://www.edelman.com/trust/2021-trust-barometer
What does doing good really mean? Do More Good podcast