In recent years, businesses have recognised the value of supporting philanthropic causes and we’ve seen the widespread development of company-wide Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

But with the country in the midst of the worst recession in eighty years, budgets are being cut left, right and centre. Some commentators have suggested that CSR, seen by some as a cost centre or fluffy HR initiative, is one of the first to suffer from tightened purse stings.

In America, a survey commissioned by ‘Business for Social Responsibility’ found a third of US firms are cutting their CSR budgets this year, while various UK charities have recently expressed their concerns about reduced corporate donations as companies’ time and money is focused elsewhere.

But we cannot, and must not, let the beneficiaries of CSR suffer. Charities still need our investment and attention, regardless of the economic climate. It’s important to remember that for a company to implement a CSR programme in the first place, a worthy cause must exist – and that cause does not disappear when budgets begin to fade.

CSR as a business strategy

All too often, CSR is seen as a nice-to-have additional programme, but the benefits to businesses are clear. As well as receiving recognition for their philanthropy, charity work provides invaluable PR and networking opportunities for businesses within their industry.

It improves their profile and reputation among their peers, and is attractive to new recruits or even prospects. In fact, a recent survey found that the vast majority of consumers would be willing to switch from one brand to another because it was associated with a good cause while other reports have shown that companies who adopt CSR strategies also benefit from higher employee loyalty and enjoy a better reputation within their market.

Businesses need to stop focusing on profit margins alone and should see CSR as an embedded business strategy. For example, a specific industry event provides great networking opportunities.

This is not corporate cynicism – it is a workable and mutual system. However, it would wrong to assume that industry support is limited to achieving business benefits alone. Indeed, after ten years of hugely successful Byte Night campaigns, the technology sector is responsible for the wellbeing and safety of hundreds of the UK’s youngsters.

Big companies, big hearts

For anyone not familiar with the campaign, Byte Night is the IT industry’s annual charity ‘sleep out’ event which raises money for Action for Children, a charity that works with the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people.

With the support of senior figures from the tech sector – including representatives from BT, Dell, The Talk Talk Group, Citrix, Oracle and Fujitsu – a staggering 1,500 people have slept outdoors since the beginning of the campaign, raising over £2 million to fight youth homelessness.

The success of Byte Night shows that companies and industries are not just throwing money at charities or providing money for advertising, while basking in the glory. It is not just about taking advantage of bonuses and passing the collection box around.

There is actually an appetite for active participation, as senior executives give up their home comforts for a night characterised by warm feeling, high spirits and a strong sense of community. It’s clear that those who take part genuinely care about the people they are helping. In fact you only have to look at the success of last year’s event to see just how true this in. Re-wind a year, and the one topic on everyone’s mind was the threat of a recession.

Everyone was fearful about what lay in store, and many were making cutbacks in preparation for a major economic downturn. But Byte Night bucked the trend. Support for the 2008 campaign was stronger than ever and we managed to raise a record sum of money – demonstrating the great soul, generosity and sense of responsibility that lies at the core of the IT industry.

For as long as it takes…

Every single person involved in Byte Night makes a difference, and we’re all responsible for improving the lives of those less fortunate. If the IT industry looked at its profit margins and decided to pull back on CSR, the Byte Night campaign would collapse and many more teenagers would be forced out onto the streets. Downturn or no downturn, our duty to these young people remains critically important.

Byte Night must (and will) go on. We’re confident the campaign can make this year bigger and better than any before. But in order to achieve this, we need your support. Whether you’re new to the event or you’re a veteran sleeper, your time and money is more essential this year than ever before. For further information, please visit: