Following the recent worldwide economic crisis, the resulting consumers ever changing expectations and the rise of the Millennial generation, companies realize that they need to change the way they do business if they expect to survive for at least another decade.
The name of the game is more than ever to find out how to be recognized and acknowledged in a world where information is continuously flowing, and where it is easier than ever to be lost in the sea of data that submerges night and day intended targets.
In most Western and Asian countries, an everyday greater number of clients are more demanding, expect they food to be grown organically while everything else has to be either / or both recycled or recyclable.
To address this never-seen before issues, many companies promote community involvement as a way to distinguish themselves from their competitors.
If this requires quite a high amount of personal contribution and dedication from the management team, the benefits kick in relatively quickly and prove to be long lasting – if the program is genuine and not a temporary fad or a marketing coup:
It translates in building a strong loyal customer base and more dedicated, happier employees.
According to branding specialist Cone Communication, more than 80% of North American and Western European consumers consider a company’s true Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) involvement when deciding which products or services to buy and where to shop.
"I've found that customers really want to know how you're making the world a better place," says Erin Giles, a business philanthropy consultant who helps entrepreneurs find causes they're passionate about and incorporate their message into their business.
“Moms and Millennials are particularly interested in a business' corporate social responsibility platform,” Giles continues.
There are four elements to consider when you want to introduce community services to your business (be it a worldwide Fortune 500 or a mom and pop local activity).
1. Be recognized by your local community
Regardless how big is your company with branches all over the world or not, at the end of the day you are always a ‘local business’:
You may have 100 branches or more worldwide, each of these branches are locally implemented and one way or another deal with their immediate environment, their local community.
Therefore, start looking at your community to understand what is important:
Are the schools struggling? Is the number of homeless people increasing? Does the animal shelter need donations?
Whatever it is, you can do something.
Look at the Pizza Ranch example:
It is a relatively small chain of restaurants in the United States.
In a way to exist against major competitors such as Pizza Hut while giving to their community (who are also, at the end of the day, their clients base), each Pizza Ranch restaurant hosts "community impact" nights, where friends and family members bus tables to support a local cause, such as raising money for a class trip.
Pizza Ranch donates the night's tips and 5 to 20% of the profits to the cause, while community members often provide additional donations.
It’s a win-win situation:
The business benefits because it fills the restaurant on a typically slow night, while the community achieves their target.
Incidentally, each local restaurant (their 198 units are implemented in 13 States) build strong relationships with their customers who naturally become ‘regulars,’ promoting the place to their friends, family and colleagues.
2. Employees must sympathize with the scheme
“Giving employees an avenue to give back is important to morale and builds a collaborative and inspired team,” Giles says. "When your employees love what they're doing, they do a better job," she adds.
It is important to give employees the opportunity to volunteer during their working hours – not everyone wishes or can use their free time to do any extra work; even for a good cause.
On the other hand, some may be available and will be happy to give time after work to such a good cause – at the end of the day, it is more fulfilling than just meeting for drinks!
Therefore, the company must be able to offer both options to their workforce – more below -, without any blame to those who select not to participate at all or prefer to join only during working hours (to succeed in the long-term, the scheme must remain on a volunteering-basis only).
It is also important to officially recognize those team members who participate and award them accordingly whenever required.
Erin Giles notes that “volunteering provides leadership opportunities for employees, which leads to increased staff performance and fulfillment and, ultimately, increased productivity and sales.”
3. Align your community involvement plan with your core business
The community involvement plan must not be foreign to the company’s business:
To succeed and get employees to volunteer, it must be in-line with what they are used to – no need to ask them to learn new skills or to enter uncharted territories if you want them on board.
Giles recommends that “business owners evaluate their business and employee strengths and select volunteer activities that draw upon those strengths.”
For example, if you own an accounting firm, you could volunteer to help a nonprofit organization set up their accounting practices.
If you own a restaurant, you may want to consider catering a school staff meeting to show your appreciation for your local teachers.
Remember the Pizza Ranch example:
It will eventually open the door to future opportunities, an additional way to increase revenue.
When designing the scheme, get your employees involved as much as possible, decide together how much time each one can volunteer through the business on an annual basis, considering your operation requirements.
4. Ensure that your customers know that you’re giving
Dr. Adrian Sargeant, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at the University of Plymouth, said that “donors have little way to assess your charity’s work; they use the service you provide to them as a surrogate.”
In other words, let your current and prospective customers know what you're doing by including the information on your Website, adding it to all your communication – external and internal (always keep in mind that your first customers are your employees) -, etc. and eventually your good cause will pay back to you.
Giles explains that "putting a dollar amount of how much your donated time or services would normally cost next to the number of hours your employees have spent giving back; it becomes then easy for customers to understand how much your company gives to the community.”
At the end of the day, being a ‘sustainable company’, also called ‘citizen company’, makes business sense as it is good for the bottom line while its costs are very minimal vs. the high return in terms of positive image, recognition and business increase.