· 1 min read · Features

Combining L&D with CSR


More staff than ever before are sharing their skills with charities in exchange for L&D opportunities, but how do you get it right?

You’ve probably been asked many times to give money to charity but how many times have you been asked to give your skills, namely those you’ve built over many years?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is changing and we are seeing a shift towards engagements that give employees an opportunity for learning and development as well as helping a charity. 

As a charity that brings together business leaders with small charities to mentor and coach them, Pilotlight welcomes this. We have seen how our business members get as much from working with charities as the charities do themselves. They learn, for instance, to coach, not tell. 

One senior banker told me that his work with charities had been more useful to him than the Harvard course he had taken to teach him board skills. He went on to sit on three charity boards and headed his own company board. Often people say they have enjoyed themselves, gained new skills and developed new ways of working.

So, what should you consider if you are setting up a CSR programme or taking part in one?

First, look for a project that will use the skills you have in the company and stretch them. Consider being part of a team with a mix of skills sets. Much of the benefit we see at Pilotlight comes from placing people from different companies within one team. 

Listen to what the charity needs and be prepared to encounter different ways of working. If you invest more time in understanding the charity at the beginning, you will make a greater difference by the end. It is important that the engagement is overseen by a project manager so both sides can ensure they are benefiting and any problems can be resolved quickly.

Where you can, coach and advise, don’t ‘do’. Coaching is about giving charity staff the skills they need to be self-sufficient in the future; consultancy is about doing the work on their behalf. 

Ask about the impact the programme has and understand what results you want to achieve. Finally, don’t be surprised if your volunteering gives you a renewed, fresh perspective. As one senior business woman told me: “When you work for a very large corporate, going back to basics and looking at the nuts and bolts of the business on a small scale makes you see things through a different lens.”

Fiona Halton is chief executive of Pilotlight