With my third London Marathon just weeks away I’m well aware of the need to focus on the big picture.

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Yes, the training is a killer, but in my experience you really can’t beat the satisfaction that comes from crossing the line and eventually seeing all your hard work pay off.

Succeeding in business can present similar challenges – especially in the current climate when we are experiencing some of the toughest economic conditions in living memory.

The temptation to scale back on projects seen by some as worthy but not ‘business critical’ may be hard to resist.

After all, a commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) may seem like a great idea in the good times, but when the going gets tough it takes a steely determination to press ahead with strategies where the bottom-line benefits are not always obvious.

But it’s precisely at these difficult times that company bosses need to hold their nerve and stay faithful to a more rounded vision of success if they want to reap rewards later down the line.

That’s why in my opinion there’s never been a better time for local firms to review the way they work with charities and form mutually-beneficial partner-ships with the not-for-profit sector.

Long gone are the days when an annual cheque presentation and a dull-looking picture in the local press were the best a company could hope for out of a commitment to good causes.

Savvy bosses and switched-on charities are no longer embarrassed to admit that these relationships need to work for both parties to be worth the time and effort involved.

The benefits are clear for the charity partner – extra funds, whether through cold, hard cash or gifts in kind, will always be the main driver.

Answers to the question ‘what’s in it for us?’ from the business partner’s perspective may well be many and varied, but they aren’t always obvious.

However, it was two of these business benefits – staff engagement and skills development that led me to start the process of looking for a dedicated charity partner for Blue Sky Leisure towards the end of last year.

Different divisions of the business have supported a number of good causes over the years, many through some kind of personal connection or empathy to a particular cause.

All of these have been worthwhile in themselves but I couldn’t help thinking that a more strategic, joined-up approach to all this good will may have more impact both for us as a business and the beneficiaries.

Having clearly defined our objectives for working with a single charity partner our next task was to research local organisations that represented a good fit.

Shortlisted organisations were then invited to pitch to us on why they should be chosen, with staff volunteers invited on to the selection panel. This ensured our workforce was engaged in the project at the earliest opportunity.

The decision to support East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) was greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm when it was announced at our annual staff conference.

We capitalised on this on the day by asking teams made up of individuals from across the business to work together and pitch an idea that could work as a charity event.

The winning idea, as judged by representatives from both the business and EACH, is now being developed into an actual fundraising event that will take place later this year.

The exciting thing about this for me is that the same staff who pitched the idea have formed a project team to work with EACH and make sure it becomes a reality.

Ian Hacon is chief executive of Blue Sky Leisure and
vice-president of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

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