Social investment

Fast read

Our goal

Through our social investment we aim to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals and their ambition to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.

We focus on:

  • Pro bono work, creative services provided for little or no fee
  • Negotiating free media space for charity campaigns
  • Charitable donations
  • Employee volunteering and fundraising

Business value

The benefits of pro bono work flow both ways. As we support the vital work of charities and NGOs, we access exciting creative opportunities for our people, supporting their professional development. As part of their pro bono work, our companies produce many award-winning campaigns each year, which enhances their creative reputation. Companies with sustainability credentials have a higher reputation among the workforce – actual and prospective – and our social investment helps motivate our people.

Sustainability impact

By contributing to the success of charities and NGOs, we help to ensure that they can achieve their aims in a sustainable, long-term way. Our pro bono work is especially valuable because campaigns and awareness raising are key tools in enabling them to achieve their aims – and our input is often worth more than an equivalent cash donation.

Challenges and dilemmas

Social investment is carried out at a local level by our operating companies. As the parent company, WPP has limited control over the amount of time and resources donated. It is hard to measure the impact of our social investment, particularly as we work with so many different charity partners across our many locations.

Management approach

All our social investment falls within the broad themes of arts, education, environment, health, human rights and local community. Individual projects are decided by our local operating companies, but WPP, the parent company, helps coordinate some pro bono initiatives involving multiple WPP companies.

External frameworks

GRI indicators in this section: G4-22

Global Compact Principles: 1, 8

Progress on our KPIs in 2017         
£12.7 million in pro bono work
£29 million worth of free media space negotiated by WPP companies
£7.7 million in charitable donations
Social investment equivalent to 0.97% of reported profit before tax
£49.4 million total social contribution


Improved Improved

No change No change

Reduced Reduced

Performance in 2017

In 2017, our social investment increased to £20.4 million (2016: £19.5 million), equivalent to 0.97% of reported profits before tax (2017: 1.03%). Cash donations to charities stood at £7.7 million and our pro bono work – based on fees the organisations would have paid for our work if we had charged commercially – was worth £12.7 million. The value of our social investment (pro bono work and charitable donations) increased by 5% on the previous year.

Free media space negotiated by our companies was worth £29 million in 2017 (2016: £22.8 million) bringing our total social contribution to £49.4 million (2016: £42.3 million).

Social impact

Our support helps NGOs and charities to carry out important work in areas such as improving health and education, and protecting human rights. We have conducted research to understand the value of this impact to society. This shows that our pro bono work and charitable donations generated social benefits worth around £165 million in 2017, (2016: £156 million) for example, by helping to improve health and well-being in communities.

Pro bono contributions

Bar chart showing pro bono contributions

WPP companies undertook pro bono work worth £12.7 million in 2017. This is up 1% on 2016.

Charitable contributions

Bar chart showing charitable contributions

The Group and its companies made cash donations to charities worth £7.7 million in 2017, up 10% on 2016.

Free media space

Bar chart showing free media space

WPP media agencies negotiated free media space worth £29 million on behalf of pro bono clients, up 27% on 2016.

Pro bono work by sector

Pie chart showing work by sector
  • Arts 6%
  • Education 21%
  • Environment 2%
  • Health 16%
  • Human rights 13%
  • Local community 42%

Charitable donations by sector

Pie chart showing charitable donations by sector
  • Arts 3%
  • Education 19%
  • Environment 1%
  • Health 15%
  • Human rights 11%
  • Local community 51%

Total social contribution

Bar chart showing total social contribution
  • Free media space
  • Charitable donations
  • Pro bono

Our total social contribution in 2017 came to £49.4 million, up 17% on 2016.

Volunteering and fundraising

We encourage our people to get involved in our social investment through volunteering and fundraising. This benefits our business by improving team working and engagement. Around 53% of our companies have a formal volunteering policy and 60% organised volunteering activities for their people during 2017.

Recent examples include:

People sitting around a table

WPP company: m/SIX London
Cause: The Mix

m/SIX shut its office for the day to host an away day with charity, The Mix, which supports people under 25 struggling with issues such as mental illness, money, housing and drugs. Staff from m/SIX and The Mix spent the day together coming up with creative ideas to engage with young people including a gamification app enabling young people to get help with mental health issues in a more informal way.

People making food

WPP company: Ogilvy New York
Cause: Food Bank for New York City, the Actors’ Chapel and the Bowery Mission.

Ogilvy New York made 1,320 sandwiches and 100 bagged lunches for the Food Bank for New York City, the Actors’ Chapel and the Bowery Mission

Group of people by food

WPP company: GroupM Australia Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane
Cause: UnLtd Charities

On Friday 24th February, all offices across the agency network took time to give back to the local community, delivering over AUS $150,000 for several UnLtd charity partners. Each employee chose a specific charity to support through volunteering or fundraising initiatives. Some of the 17 projects supported included: Be Centre, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Salvation Army Project 614, The Pyjama Foundation, White Lion, Oz Harvest and Youth off the Streets.

People making food in Korea

WPP company: GroupM Korea
Cause: Bobfor

GroupM Korea, supported Bobfor, serving lunches to homeless and elderly people and others in need of support. During the course of six days, 216 GroupM employees got involved, serving 3,090 meals.

Hurricane relief

WPP company: MediaCom New York
Cause: Hurricane Relief Day

MediaCom New York ran its ‘Gives Back Day’ to help victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Employees got involved by giving blood and donating items for those impacted by the hurricanes and heard first hand from NGOs involved in the hurricane relief efforts.

Spiazza biblioteca sociale

WPP company: Burson Cohn & Wolfe Milan
Cause: Cooperativa Sociale Arimo

Cooperativa Sociale Arimo helps children in care and vulnerable teenagers to become socially and economically independent. The Burson Cohn & Wolfe volunteers supported the charity by decorating its library, including creating new graphics for its windows and providing new books and board games.

Common Ground

We launched Common Ground in 2016 – a collaboration between the world’s six biggest advertising and marketing services groups and the United Nations. Together, our aim is to use the power of communication to accelerate progress towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Our focus as WPP is gender equality. More than 26 of our companies have participated so far, developing over 33 projects. Our industry has particular responsibility for identifying and addressing gender-biased stereotypes in the media and for promoting equal opportunities for women and girls. To ensure the longevity of this initiative, we have developed a long term, strategic partnership with UN Women, focusing on collaboration between local UN offices and WPP companies.

Examples of our work for Common Ground and other pro bono campaigns are included in our Pro bono book and the Common Ground website.

Pro bono work by WPP research, PR and media companies

WPP the parent company

Our social investment is largely determined at local level where our operating companies are well placed to identify where our contributions can play a significant role. But WPP, the parent company, also makes donations to organisations working in the areas of education, the arts and young people.

Our senior executives also act as communications advisors to many NGOs and non-profits and WPP, the parent company, provides pro bono support directly to a number of charities.

WPP India CSR Foundation

The WPP India CSR Foundation invested £1.12 million in 2017 to reach over 15,000 children from vulnerable and marginalised communities, supporting education and vocational training projects focusing on English, science and computer programming as well as personal development and life skills such as financial management and job interview techniques. See for more information.