What Does Business Have To Do With Corporate Community Involvement?
In today’s hyper-competitive climate, businesses can’t afford to altruistically donate resources, at least not a significant amount. For community involvement (or Corporate Social Responsibility, if you prefer) to have a meaningful scale and be sustainable, it needs to reap business benefits.
In the words of Harvard Business School strategist Michael Porter, best-practice community involvement creates “shared value.” The value added to the community is better health, education, environment or other societal improvement. The value added to the business might be improved branding, customer loyalty, new market access, employee engagement or employee skill development, to name a few.
In other words, a high impact strategy for community involvement needs to align with the business goals.
But how does one do this, especially if one is a small company without a community involvement department? To ensure your community involvement is designed to create business value, we recommend these steps:
1. List the company’s top three goals.
2. Design ways for the community involvement to support one or more of them.
3. Try to align 60-80% percent of your community involvement with the company’s goals (doing some non-strategic charity is perfectly fine). Can you use charitable donation cards to support branding for example, like Mazda does? Can you use skills-based volunteering to develop employees like Disney does? Can you focus on women’s advocacy to support the wellbeing of your own (largely female) employee base, like First American Financial does?
4. If steps 1-3 did not yield a feasible way to align your community involvement with business interests, apply steps 1-3 to other business goals. For example, can you support marketing or HR goals?
5. Make sure your community involvement is material to the business, meaning that it focuses on causes that are pertinent to the success of the business. For example, if you run a surf shop, a material cause might be clean oceans. For more on materiality analysis, see Checklist of Topics for Your Code of Conduct Document.
6. Share your plans with the departments or individuals charged with the company goals the community involvement supports, ask for feedback and polish your community involvement program accordingly.
An example of applying the above steps is IBM. Its corporate goals included training global leaders and entering new markets in developing countries. In response, its community involvement program created Corporate Service Corps, a skills-based volunteer program designed to develop global leadership skills. The program selects 500 young leaders a year, puts them into teams of 6-12, and sends them to the developing world to tackle a social issue. An example of a project might be helping a rural clinic in Peru's Andes mountains develop strategies for fighting cervical cancer.
The business value of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps is that “IBMers receive leadership training and development” and “IBM develops new markets and global leaders.” The social value is “Communities have their problems solved.”
Other companies link their community involvement to branding, customer retention, new product development, employee retention and team work, for example. In fact, any business goal can be supported by a properly designed community involvement program.
Want to make sure that five years from now your company will still be giving homeless children hot meals or protecting our beaches? Make sure these community involvement projects serve the business. Whether you are starting your community involvement program or you are looking to improve it, ensuring that it supports business success will protect the longevity of your community involvement.
Looking for more support on aligning your community involvement with business interests? Download the “Community Involvement Strategic Plan Template” (members only) or call us.