Business schools and charity: Call of duty

Business schools have a responsibility to support charities and help bring about social change

There is widespread agreement that business schools should provide research and teaching for the next generation with a greater focus on sustainability, ethics and social purpose. Sitting behind the 17 UN Global Goals for Development are a number of targets, to guide governments, business and society to work together to build a better sustainable future for all.

Business schools are no exception. City, University of London has an explicit aspiration to become a leading global university that contributes to the global good of society.

One way that it aligns its activities to the UN’s sustainable development goals is through the Centre for Charity Effectiveness (CCE), at The Business School (formerly Cass).

Supporting leaders, supporting organisations

For more than two decades the centre has acted as a catalyst for social change, through its work in strengthening the governance, leadership and sustainability of non-profit organisations, many of whom are addressing the needs of the most excluded groups in society. There is increasing chatter about the important role of these non-profit organisations being more needed than ever, as we work together to rebuild post-Covid.

Not only does CCE act as an educator for leaders, but it helps to increase organisational capacity. Importantly, as we work to strengthen leaders’ performance, we play a part in allowing their organisations to deliver maximum support for the marginalised communities and those that they are closest to. By working to improve these organisations’ capacities and equipping them better to bring about targeted positive change the centre’s work helps to ensure that the funding is used in the most effective way, shoring up the work of an array of foundations and philanthropists. Finally, through applied research and contributions to public consultations, it can provide robust evidence for others to apply in their advocacy work.

We deliver our work through four core activities; educational programmes with our charity-specific Executive MSc programme and a suite of Executive Education leadership programmes; our applied research; a range of knowledge-exchange activities from main auditorium speaker events to our role as the educational partner in a podcast series and, importantly, our consulting activities to more than 100 organisations each year.

The last is delivered at a significantly reduced fee point to allow greater accessibility to the non-profits sector. The 100-plus assignments each year help ensure the sustainable running of the centre and, importantly, provides significant learning to be captured from the field, which can be fed back into the educational and knowledge-exchange work.

With Gen Z now stepping into the working world, they are bringing with them a different set of priorities, expectations and norms

Integrating social purpose into mainstream education

Surprisingly, it remains something of a rarity to find such a centre sitting within a leading global business school, with similar centres more typically found within public administration or the social sciences. Perhaps one could argue that The Business School was ahead of the game, but momentum is gaining for two-way learning between business and the social purpose sectors. With charity management being distinct in areas from commercial and public sector management, it brings additional diversity and richness to the educational environment. With this comes cross-sector learning, and additional opportunities in the form of student projects, placements and career openings.

Delivering work to support non-profits goes beyond a duty and makes sound educational sense.

It is imperative that students are prepared for an increasingly social-purpose-driven world and with that goes a need for curricular innovation – that’s why CCE colleagues have recently piloted an elective pathway on managing for social purpose open to all our business undergraduates. In September 2021, we will offer an undergraduate degree focused solely on this.

Leaders of tomorrow

With Gen Z now stepping into the working world, they are bringing with them a different set of priorities, expectations and norms. Today they are junior employees, but they will soon be the leaders of tomorrow. Binary concepts are outdated, with the need to be able to blend enterprise with social purpose coming to the fore. Increasingly the need to balance economic, social and environmentally created values is shared across all sectors. For CCE, supporting non-profits goes beyond the call of duty and meets a growing need for a business education that matches contemporary needs – and the needs of society overall.


Alex Skailes is director at the Centre of Charity Effectiveness, and a senior academic, in the faculty of management at The Business School (formerly Cass), one of City, University of London’s five schools. The institute changed its name in 2020 due to the historic link of Sir John Cass to the slave trade.

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