Social value is not a tick box exercise – three principles for making a real impact

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Companies are now required to demonstrate social value as part of a procurement process, particularly when bidding for public sector tenders

Reporting on social value that can consist of a combination of community engagement, sustainable employment, environmental and supply chain practices is now a requirement and growing priority, however, how does one begin?

Putting together a social value strategy to do this can feel overwhelming to navigate, particularly for SMEs. From defining what social value is, to finding social value organisations to partner with and understanding how to measure results, many companies rule themselves out of government bids because they do not have the resources or knowledge to demonstrate what they’re aiming to achieve.

There are three guiding principles, however, that can help organisations of all sizes to demonstrate the value of the ‘S’ in their ESG initiatives. By following these principles companies can deliver a comprehensive social value plan – an element that can now count for up to 30% of the scoring in government contracts.

Social value activities should be explicit to the specific tender

This means investing in community, employment and supply chain partnerships and projects where there is a proven additional benefit to society during the contract period.

For each tender, this could mean focusing on different targets. A successful social value strategy is one where you match the targets for the tender to your company’s social mission, capabilities and areas of operation. Aligning with local charities, social enterprises and social initiatives is key as they are the experts in local needs and how to solve social and environmental challenges.

Be specific, provide convincing evidence of your commitment

Authorities have seen too many vague, high-level social value plans in bids, which are often unachievable and unrealistic. Tangible, specific activities, delivered with local partners, are crucial to providing convincing evidence of your commitment. You can partner with VCSEs in various ways:

  • Money – setting up a grant or money donation scheme can be the most effective way of supporting new or existing local initiatives. When you’re supporting causes with money, adding other elements of support, such as volunteering, also becomes easier due to existing relationships.
  • Skills, non-skilled volunteering – too often volunteering stems from ‘self-interested’ motivations from companies looking to engage staff, without considering the genuine needs of the organisations receiving the time and skills. Volunteering should be conducted in larger quantities of hours, over a long period of time. Whether the skills given are IT, construction related or mentoring, for example, small expense budgets are always good to add on. Often valuable advice cannot be implemented, or good practices continued, as the VCSEs lack the budget to implement them – e.g. paying for recommended software or investing in additional marketing.
  • Product – there is high demand for almost all kinds of used and new products, but it’s important to find the right partners with a timely need for the resources you have available. New raw materials, the products your company produces, or office equipment, can be of huge value to the right recipient, for example.
  • Services – service donations differ from skills-based volunteering. This is something that you would usually charge clients for, and the same quality and liability requirements apply. Service donations can have a transformative effect on a local charity or community groups, saving tens of thousands of pounds from set-up, tech or renovation costs. These donations can also be highly rewarding for your staff to deliver, and depending on the industry you work in, they don’t necessarily require a local presence, as many services can be delivered from a distance.

When working with charities and social enterprises, you could also consider buying their services and products – to include these organisations as part of your supply chain. This could include everything from mental health training for your staff or aligning with a catering services company that employs a disabled workforce, to consulting on environmentally sustainable practices or sourcing local, ecological office products.

If your company can’t offer direct local employment opportunities, you can also fulfil employment targets by supporting training and employment-related VCSEs.

Engage with communities and be locally relevant

Companies are expected to deliver plans that are relevant to the communities where the project delivery will take place, despite their geographic origin. Collaboration with local organisations, resource exchanges, commercial partnerships and supporting local projects are often the best ways to approach this.

Also, ask yourself, what is the impact you wish to leave behind after the contract has ended? Partnership models and making existing local area initiatives stronger through strategic and financial help are powerful ways to build a strong legacy.

Making a winning social value bid doesn’t depend on the size of your organisation. Every company has value to offer. Make sure you are recording all the social value activities you do. Many companies engage with their communities as the norm and don’t realise the value they’re creating. Start with a small inventory of the partnerships or initiatives already in place and build out your plan from there. You may find that all the pieces are there, you just need to communicate the sum of the parts more effectively. Your company’s ability to effectively budget, manage and report on the impact of your social value will be the deciding factor in the bidding process.

To find out more about how to demonstrate social impact value when bidding for government contracts, you can access what impacts Social Value Handbook here.

This piece was written and provided by Tiia Sammallahti the CEO of and the co-author of multiple reports on social value and the UK’s first Social Value Management Handbook.


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