What can business and charity learn from each other?

By Anita Jaynes on 6 June, 2022

Peter Woodhouse, Head of Business Sector and Social Enterprise Sector at Bath-headquartered law firm Stone King, considers what businesses can learn from charities, and vice versa.

What is the difference between a charity and a business? On a purely operational level, I expect you might say something like ‘how they make and manage money’. So, what is the difference between a business and a social enterprise? This is more difficult to answer in just a couple words, but you might say that a business is set up to make money and the market trickles the benefit to society; whereas a social enterprise is designed to deliver a specific non-monetary impact, in which process it needs and may make money. 

However, many organisations don’t fit this neat binary analysis possibly because their owners quite like making money, but also because they recognise and act on wider responsibilities such as to their communities and the environment. The lines are often blurred but we are seeing increasing recognition of the idea of “impact ventures”. These are organisations who don’t quite see themselves as charitable or as having a primary goal to deliver public benefit, but who really do want to help. 

This positive change of outlook identifies a real need for organisations to learn from each other. One of the key aims of the South West Charity Conference & Expo (reported on in this issue and which Stone King co-sponsors) is to connect businesses and charities to find new opportunities to work together for the benefit of both —and there is still much they can learn from working together.

For example, you might not expect a tool machinist company to know much about water purity in Saharan Africa, but if the company’s decision makers are interested, they can link to a chosen charity carrying out this important work and help deliver that impact.

This can go much further than just making a charitable contribution. For example, the company could offer support by way of a non-executive directorship, and could help in drafting business plans to support funding pitches. Conversely, the charity could provide placement opportunities to the company staff and more generally engage with its employees to share knowledge and expertise about impactful enterprise, as well a real sense of making a difference.

Charity managers and trustees can sometimes learn from businesses about robust yet fair staff management, or their approach to strategic decisions such as mergers, to the furtherance of their charitable objects. Conversely, some businesses could benefit from viewing things through a charity’s lens and learn from what motivates its employees and supporters. The more charities and businesses talk to each other, the greater will be the benefits all round.

To connect with Peter email: peterwoodhouse@stoneking.co.uk and visit Stone King online at: www.stoneking.co.uk