THURSDAY 6 MAY 2021 12:09 PM


Michael Duncan, head of giving strategy & programmes at NatWest Group, writes an insightful piece about charitable partnerships and what it means to be a purpose-driven company in 2021.

“Purpose” is the latest buzzword in corporate circles – and reflects an important shift in thinking about why companies exist.  Gone are the days when companies existed solely to generate value for shareholders; a purpose-led company will seek to benefit the whole of society – where profit is not its purpose but just one outcome of its existence.

At NatWest Group, we were excited to launch our new Purpose last year, which was the culmination of a long journey supported by our friends at A Blueprint for Better Business.  Purpose is much more than just a tagline, but at the heart of our purpose is a desire to champion the potential of people, families and businesses – to help the communities we operate in to thrive. As part of that we will focus in on three areas where we can make the biggest impact in our customers’ lives: supporting and driving enterprise; confidence through learning and financial capability, and combating climate change.

Why is all this relevant to the way in which we work with charities? 

In the past, a company’s CSR programme was very often tagged on to the side of its normal operations and its aim was to demonstrate its credentials as a good corporate citizen (and dare I say to detract from some of the more damaging aspects of its activity). This would very often involve expensive branded charity partnerships that brought benefits to both the company (good PR) and the charity (significant funding), but did not significantly change how the company operated.

A purpose-led company wants every aspect of its operations to benefit society and that will, I believe, increasingly change how companies work with charities. Charities and companies increasingly want to deliver the same things – good outcomes for the whole of society. 

My view is that the big branded partnerships will become less important, but companies working with charities to draw on their expertise and to help them to deliver against their purpose-led strategy will become more important. 

Where we need to get better at doing something, for example how we support our customers with certain medical conditions or who find themselves in vulnerable situations, we might look to charities to act as consultants, advising us on best practice on how to support their needs.  Where we lack the expertise or capability to do something ourselves we might work closely with a charity to support us – this is our approach for our response to UK and international emergencies through our strong relationships with the Disasters Emergency Committee and the National Emergencies Trust.  And where we have specific objectives linked to our purpose focus areas we might enter into formal partnerships – such as our partnership with The Prince’s Trust where we sponsor their Youth Enterprise programme and with The Conservation Volunteers where we aim to help our colleagues contribute to our climate ambitions through the planting of 100,000 trees in 2021.

My advice to charities that want to work with big companies is to take time to understand their purpose and the strategy that flows from that and then to ask themselves how can they support those ambitions. Think about how your charity can help a company serve its customers better and support it to bring its purpose to life through meaningful activities and programmes. 

Companies like NatWest Group have a long history of working closely with charities and hugely value the relationships they have with them, but as businesses become more purpose-led, the nature of these relationships will have to evolve.