Reassessing your company’s community relations program? Consider a renewed focus on aligning community investment and business strategy.
The business case for implementing volunteering and charitable programs in an employer’s community is well documented: it increases brand awareness, may lead to improved employee retention, increases the existing prospect/customer base and may serve to differentiate you from competitors.
However, these successes depend on community involvement and volunteering programs being in harmony with a company’s business goals as well as its code of conduct. The way in which an employer interacts with the greater community, whether the scope be local or global, speaks volumes of the entity’s proactivity, innovation, competitiveness and culture.
Employers interested in implementing a community relations program should align any proposals with existing business goals, preferences and culture.
For example, if one of the corporation’s goals is to provide universal, sustainable access to information, then supporting programs that prioritize education or information dissemination would further corporate priorities and achieve synergies across markets.
Or, a company’s image as a green company could be enhanced by selecting volunteer opportunities that advance these issues or simply by allowing telecommuting employees to choose programs close to their home base.
A company whose goals are aligned in this manner may become an employer of choice and may better:
- Recruit and retain employees;
- Increase overall morale; and
- Encourage collaboration and teamwork.
Choosing projects to support involves planning, introspection and care. View the proposed initiative not as a unilateral corporate decree, but rather as a multi-tiered partnership consisting of internal and external stakeholders. While the tone is certainly set by senior management, stakeholders should be recognized, consulted and supported throughout the process in order to ensure success.
Success should be measurable in order to be both defensible and instructive. For the best ROI, implementation should be coordinated with the leadership team, supervisors and employees. In addition, external community stakeholders should be consulted regarding implementation of specific programs. While this may reduce corporate control, it reinforces shared interests and contributes to the project’s ultimate success.
Once buy-in has been achieved at the highest corporate and external levels, HR and others facilitating volunteerism and charitable giving projects must ensure that any project is implemented consistently and enthusiastically by teams, supervisors and employees.
For example, supervisors should understand the importance of engaging in volunteer activities and how the program furthers strategic corporate goals. A supervisor can champion participation and contribute to the project’s success, or, conversely, may upset the viability of an initiative by resisting it.
An employee is much more likely to forego any volunteerism opportunities if a supervisor is unsupportive or shows little respect for the initiative.
Expand Your Global Reach
For corporations with a global presence, the reach of the volunteer or charitable program can, and should, be correspondingly expanded. Global employers need to establish a consistent presence across various regions and cultures: targeted programs that exist under one corporate umbrella can assist in establishing this presence.
Community relations programs can reflect a variety of concerns that vary by region and by country. Volunteering or giving opportunities may be both proactive (a tech start-up supporting an education fund for student technical training) or reactive (a global corporation with operations in a region devastated by an earthquake organizing relief efforts).
Both responses advance an employer’s business interests by increasing brand awareness, potentially expanding the customer base and emphasizing an internal culture of integrity.
Of course, for organizations with a more limited global presence, the adoption of globally focused fundraising initiatives may provide the entity with improved brand recognition on a more international scale, which may spark future expansion or lead to more diverse partnership opportunities.
Communicating the mission and goals of the community relations program to the workforce in an effective manner is critical. HR can deploy multiple communication strategies in order to empower understanding and encourage participation.
When communicating the benefits of a particular program, the communication method that best suits a particular audience should be employed to ensure that the message is heard, understood and internalized.
Answers to questions should be easy to find – a click away, if that. Workplace signage has visual impact and social media can be used to share experiences and successes. Videos of past activities or future commitments should be made available to employees or viewed at team meetings. Employee surveys also should be conducted in order to understand employee interests, preferences and concerns.
Guide, But Empower, Your Employees
Providing a framework for employees to choose their own activities can increase participation in the volunteer program. Offer an array of volunteerism opportunities that fit employees’ diverse skills and abilities, but provide guidance by limiting available opportunities to include only those that are aligned with business goals.
Community support can take a number of forms, including:
- Support programs;
- Fundraising initiatives; or
- Donation of time and services.
Empowering employees to control their volunteer time and the overall degree of participation (contributing monetarily versus dedicating a day on-site) can support engagement. A corporation may facilitate hands-on participation by allotting a certain amount of paid time off to employees for this purpose.
Finally, formally recognizing those who have made a particularly meaningful contribution or provided support to the corporate program can further retention goals and maintain continued support efforts.
As with any workplace initiative, a plan as implemented should allow for measures and data collection in order to determine ROI. The costs of the program should be weighed against the benefits (including hard data such as time and wage costs, and soft data such as job satisfaction) to determine the optimal parameters of giving.
Data collection may be achieved through:
- Opinion surveys;
- Voluntary turnover rates;
- Productivity measures; and
- Business performance.
Although somewhat complex, the effects of the community project should be isolated from other factors that may affect the data (especially with respect to employee turnover or business performance). Methods to achieve this isolation may range from:
- Introducing a pilot program to isolate experimental groups from control groups; or
- Soliciting from the following groups their estimate of the program’s impact:
- Supervisors; and
- Senior management.
Certain benefits may be simple to determine (such as calculating time cost by using employee wage and benefit data).
However, intangible benefits can be especially difficult to isolate and quantify. These benefits include:
- Increased employee engagement;
- Improved communications;
- Fewer incidents of workplace conflict;
- Increasingly varied networking opportunities; and
- Increased brand awareness.
In calculating ROI, ensure that all benefits are accounted for so that a reliable cost/benefit analysis may be achieved. Any results of the assessment should be communicated to stakeholders in an appropriate format that allows for discussion and review.
Community relations programs should continue to be fine-tuned as business goals and employee interests evolve. Any improvements and successes should be communicated to the greater team in order to foster continuing support of community-centered initiatives.
Successful implementation of community relations programs should result in achieving multiple goals simultaneously. Facilitating volunteering opportunities provides a connection between corporate goals and an employee’s personal goals. By completing one project, the following multiple aims can be fulfilled:
- Business goals;
- HR goals;
- Employee development goals; and
- Employee personal goals.
These synergies lead to business opportunities while emphasizing corporate, as well as individual, responsibility, both in the short- and long-term.
RELX, my employer, contributes to local and global communities on a consistent basis. RELX’s corporate responsibility report states the corporation’s global community program, RE Cares, “supports employee and corporate engagement that makes a positive impact on society through volunteering and giving.”
At RELX, we have a global network of employees, known as RE Cares Champions, who help spread the word regarding corporate-sponsored projects. Questions and information on corporate community support are included in the corporation’s global employee opinion survey as well. A core component of the program is Two Days, which allows employees two days’ paid leave a year for volunteer work of their choice.
Last month, as part of RE Cares, I attended the Junior Solar Sprints STEM competition, in which middle school teams designed, tested and raced solar cars. This activity aligns with RELX’s stated goal of prioritizing education and was selected by our local team as a worthy volunteerism effort.
While the opportunity to spend a sunny day outside of the office was very welcome, and hearing children laughing and joking is always good for the soul, my participation allowed me to support a local and regional education initiative, which is extremely important for my professional development.
I began my legal career enforcing civil rights laws in the education sector. In addition, a major part of my current job responsibilities involves educating HR on strategies to minimize liability risks. Finally, I serve as Vice President of the Long Hill Township Board of Education, and take a strong interest in regional and state educational opportunities in order to better advocate for my constituents.
The event aligned business, HR, professional and personal goals, and can be qualified as a business success.
However, the most rewarding part of the effort is knowing the students grew from the experience – and some even took the time to say “Thanks.” Because my employer supports these community efforts, I can happily say to them, “You’re very welcome. Anytime.”
— Alicia Smith (@asmith343) May 24, 2016
— TransOptions (@TransOptions) May 24, 2016