Companies are focused on making a positive impact: Interview with PwC Director of Corporate Responsibility

There is a lot of discussion about the world of Corporate Social Responsibility today, and the movement is not slowing down.

Last month, I wrote about the how some corporations take advantage of socially responsible advertising. This month, I had the opportunity to ask a key corporate contact about the relationship non-profit organizations have with corporations, how corporate giving affects public perception, and how others can implement socially responsible practices and initiatives in their businesses.

James Temple, the Director of Corporate Responsibility at PwC and of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundation, took some time to answer my questions on this expanding popular topic.

Recently, the foundation put together a report on Capacity Building, which contains content from the community discussions they organized.

Q: How did members of not-for-profit sector organizations, private foundations and major corporations cooperate during the series of roundtable discussions you held? Were there any interesting situations, given that this doesn’t often occur?

A: One of the most exciting aspects of the PwC roundtables was the excitement shared by all members who attended the sessions – not-for-profit organizations, private foundations and corporations.  Everyone who attended had the same focus:  to look to the not-for-profit sector as a source of wisdom and inspiration to educate us on how to make smarter, long-term investments that will help them achieve their missions. At the end of the day, all stakeholders shared a common goal to help our communities, but we as corporations can do a better job in understanding what it takes to get there.

The project wasn’t without some necessary friction – there were some big opinions, passionate debates and lot of talk about the fact more of these roundtables need to happen.  Suffice to say, we’re excited about continuing this important project.

Q: Often, corporations become affiliated with non-profit organizations to create a positive public image. What are some examples of situations where genuine generosity and passion have contributed to the success of corporate donations?

A: It’s no surprise that corporates affiliate themselves with not-for-profit organizations in part because it can help foster a positive public image. But, we believe it goes much deeper than this. It’s all about the approach you take to ensure your support makes a big impact (not just lip service) and that you provide the right resources to staff to support their interests in giving back to the community.

How do we do this at PwC? To ensure we make a significant impact in our community involvement, we developed a measurement tool called the Volunteer Continuum, which we’ve recently made available for other corporations and not-for-profits to use as a resource. The Continuum helps individuals and businesses become more strategic in their volunteer efforts and was developed in collaboration with some of Canada’s largest charitable organizations, including Volunteer Canada, Imagine Canada and the Toronto Community Foundation.

Not only are we focused internally on our own approach to CR, we’re also actively engaged with the not-for-profit and corporate communities to help evolve charitable partnerships to become more effective.

Q: How evident are PwC’s Corporate Responsibility goals within various levels of the company? How can businesses of all sizes promote CSR internally?

A: At PwC, CR represents the way we integrate social, environmental and economic concerns into our overall values, culture and decision-making. We focus our commitments in the four areas in which we operate, namely Community, Environment, People and Marketplace, to bring a holistic view to our CR initiatives.

A good CR strategy embeds good social, environmental and transparent behaviours into day-to-day decision-making. We promote our CR program through a variety of internal communication vehicles – messages from our leadership team, local office initiatives, posters highlighting our sustainability program, and holding local events to talk about critical CR issues. We also have a network of Foundation Champions in offices across the country who promote our CR initiatives at the local level.

Every business will have a unique CR journey. There is no right or wrong way to go about developing a CR program. There are various best practices a company can follow, but they need to first ensure that CR is reflected prominently in the overall business strategy for it to be effective.

Q: Do you feel students and young professionals are being offered or exposed to opportunities within the non-profit sector enough? Any comments on how non-profits can provide comparable jobs?

A: We have a young and engaged workforce. The average age of our people is under 30! As part of our commitment to building and empowering community leadership, we’ve assembled a group of over 200 Foundation Champions and Green Team leaders across our offices. These individuals are passionate about work within the not-for-profit sector and environmental sustainability. They look at new ways to get involved in our communities that make sense to that region.

From our perspective, we find there is a real thirst from students and young professionals to work for companies with strong CR programs. In fact, we hear from new recruits often that our Foundation is one of the reasons why they were interested in PwC. Our job is to listen to them, shape our programs accordingly and provide them with the financial and work-flexibility support so they can get involved in the community in ways that are meaningful for them.

Q: There is so much positive (and sometimes vital) work being done by various community and non-profit organizations. Is the support of corporations reliable and can it become sustainable?

A: This is a very timely question because this is an issue that we’ve been following closely. In fact, we just launched a new thought leadership paper diving into this topic, called Capacity Building: Investing in not-for-profit effectiveness. To achieve more sustainable partnerships, we need to be mindful that these partnerships have a lot of layers.

The question remains on how organizations will stay focused on what’s really important – having measureable impacts and outcomes in the community vs. driving competition in such a non-competitive space. The first step is for not-for-profits and corporations to have more candid, honest conversations about how support needs to evolve to help not-for-profits achieve their missions. You can read more about our Capacity Building paper at