General wisdom – and the occasional ‘feel good’ stories covered by local news channels about corporations that went above and beyond to serve their local communities – tell us that a company garners a lot of goodwill when it champions local causes, fair business practices and responsible environmental stewardship… and now, a 2015 Community Involvement survey by Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship shows that corporate philanthropy programs that include local community oriented development projects provide a huge boost to a corporation’s business goals.
Specifically, when corporate executives were asked whether community involvement was essential to, contributed very much toor contributed somewhat to specific business goals, here’s how they responded:
Enhancing Reputation: 99% said community involvement was essential to or contributed very much or contributed somewhat to a company’s reputation
Improving Recruitment: 98%
Improving Employee Retention: 97%
Attracting New Customers: 82%
Improving Customer Retention: 74%
Improving Access to New Markets: 67%
Attracting New Investors: 67%
In addition, more than half of those surveyed said community involvement improved risk management, helped secure a sustainable supply chain and reduced waste in business operations. And 46% of the executives said community involvement reduced healthcare costs, while over a third saw some benefits to product innovation.
So, clearly, community engagement through corporate philanthropy furthers business goals that are not directly or obviously related to employee volunteering or workplace giving.
Prioritize Causes for Greater Benefit
The survey also found that community involvement most effectively contributed to business goals when corporate interests aligned with causes supported. In other words, community involvement delivered the most benefits when executives developed workplace giving and employee volunteering programs as an intrinsic part of corporate strategy, and then picked and prioritized causes for involvement and support. By focusing corporate resources and employee volunteering in areas where they can do the most good, businesses are seeing greater returns on their investments and are more effectively achieving their business goals.
Noticeable recent shifts in the top areas of giving reinforce this thinking, with an increase in CSR focus on health and wellness programs as a route to reducing corporate healthcare costs, and increased investment in STEM programs – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – to nurture a future pipeline of talent to fill a projected 17% increase in STEM jobs over the next decade.
As a result, corporations are increasingly getting involved in K-12 education, youth programs, health and wellness, STEM training and education, and community economic development… because they see direct future benefit from involvement in these activities more than from other causes.
Here’s what it all boils down to:
First, understand that community-based corporate philanthropy delivers real business benefits… and make sure corporate social responsibility (CSR) becomes an integral, interwoven part of your company’s strategic plans.
Then, design volunteering and giving programs that leverage corporate and employee talents, resources and future needs… and go deep, with a focus on supporting just a few high impact causes where your business can make meaningful contributions in a sustained, time-bound and results-oriented manner – so your local community, customers, employees, partners and stakeholders see quick, clear and tangible benefits of your support, involvement and long-term commitment to chosen causes – that builds your company’s reputation and reinforces corporate sincerity and trustfulness.
And leverage specialists that focus on corporate philanthropy to help you quickly build out, administer and internally market solid workplace giving and employee volunteering programs, prioritize and pick causes, incorporate CSR best practices and stay in compliance with the many laws and regulations that govern charitable contributions.
In parallel, spread the message loud and clear that CSR is a strategic corporate priority with full executive sponsorship, and educate your managers and employees on the benefits and importance of CSR to ensure maximum participation so corporate philanthropy becomes an integral year-round focus, gets embedded in your corporate culture, and becomes an intrinsic differentiator that endears your company to its various stakeholders.
And, for Pete’s sake, make sure your company doesn’t superficially engage in CSR just to check off a box on a public relations list – you know, with the occasional frivolous volunteering event once a year – because that rings hollow from a mile away and reeks of insincerity in a manner that alienates everyone – customers, employees, partners and shareholders.
In a nutshell, play to your company’s talents, be sincere about making meaningful contributions through CSR, and go out and do some real good in your community – for their sake… and yours!