The responsibilities of business leaders extend beyond their immediate companies. In fact, one of the most important aspects of business leadership is connecting with the community and developing relationships with local organizations to make a real difference.
Companies that give back distinguish themselves from the competition, and business leaders who drive these connections expand their professional network and their circle of influence. Community involvement also boosts visibility of a brand and helps leaders meet and develop relationships with other key players in their own neighborhoods. Furthermore, these efforts help engage employees, many of whom may seek out employment from organizations that make social engagement a priority.
The following are some of the key things that business leaders should keep in mind when developing a strategy for community engagement:
Align community engagement with the mission of the company.
Business leaders can get the greatest return on investment in terms of both impact and business growth by launching initiatives that capitalize on the strengths of the company. For example, an organization that focuses on accounting could partner with local nonprofits to help them with taxes or create a more robust accounting system. Similarly, technology firms can help charities adopt new software that streamlines their processes, and restaurants can partner with soup kitchens to ensure that no food goes to waste. Initiatives that stay within a company’s brand allow employees to make use of their unique skills while expanding brand awareness in relevant community circles.
Of course, business leaders should never impose these services. The best strategy is to identify potential community partners and then meet to discuss the needs of the organization and the strengths of the company.
Involve employees in the engagement process.
Employees at the company will likely already have opinions about how they can make an impact in the community. Therefore, opening the floor to discussion can invite some really great and novel ideas. Even if these ideas do not pan out in the short term, they can point to new directions for philanthropic growth once the company has grown a little more. When employees are involved with the process, they feel an ownership over the program and will be more committed to it.
Business leaders may also want to use these community partnerships to nourish new generations of leaders. For example, they can give promising individuals positions of responsibility with these initiatives to acquire real-life leadership experience as they prepare to take on more duties at the company. However, it is important to engage all employees in the decision-making process, not just those whom management has identified as potential leaders.
Focus more on the community than the return.
Many business leaders decide to launch community engagement programs because they understand the myriad benefits these programs can have for the company. While investing in the community does provide significant returns, focusing on this aspect of engagement will ultimately limit the impact that the company can make.
Instead, leaders should focus on making the greatest impact possible and motivating their employees to really care about what is going on around them. When leaders take this approach, they will naturally get a significant return without having to focus any energy on that aspect. Business leaders should always have the needs of the business in mind, but, in this case, those needs take a back seat to philanthropy.
Build synergistic relationships with other leaders.
Much of the motivation for many business leaders to get engaged with the community comes from opportunities for networking. Again, networking in this context should not be for the express purpose of expanding business. Instead, networking can focus on coming together to make even better programs.
Executives should collaborate not just with the leaders of local organizations, but also with other business leaders. Teaming with other companies can create an incredible synergistic relationship that generates an immense impact in the community. Leaders should share their experiences and their insights so that everyone can have a leg up on developing the best community programs that meet the needs of the most people possible. The relationships that develop will likely open new doors and will certainly get the attention of community members.
Share the impact of the company with customers.
When companies put a dollar amount to the impact that they have had on local organizations or quote the number of hours that employees have donated, it may seem like a shameless plug to some people. Business leaders who use these numbers to brag about the work done may generate this sort of response. However, leaders can create an organic way of spreading word of the company’s impact by using the numbers to enlist customers in the effort.
While pressuring customers into helping is never a good idea, leaders can share the numbers with customers and then give them an opportunity to get involved by either donating explicitly to the program or creating volunteer days that are open to more than just the employees of the company. Engaging customers in this way shows them how they can also contribute to the programs that are reshaping the community.