Community Engagement and the “Good Guy” Escape Hatch
Almost everyone wants to be the good guy. Engaging your business in the local community through volunteerism and charitable giving can have a positive impact both on your business and in your community. The more public-facing your business is and the larger your staff grows, the more opportunities your business will have to be the good guy as employees and community members seek support from your business. When yet another adorable uniform-clad kid comes in selling popcorn or cookies, or a service-dog organization brings in the big brown puppy dog eyes to seek a donation, you may need an escape hatch. Having a community-engagement policy in place will benefit your business by promoting community engagement, supporting your employees, and making it easier to say “no.”
Community Engagement Can be Good for Your Business
Every time a customer or prospect sees your business name or logo, you reinforce your marketing efforts and increase your brand awareness. Being active in the community can provide “stealth” marketing and goodwill opportunities, and even position you and your business as a community leader. Seek out a charity you want to align your business with. Look for a charity of a size that will meaningfully benefit from the amount or type of contribution the business will make. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- ~Provide a volunteer team to a highway clean-up project and earn a roadside sign with your organization’s name on it.
- ~Sponsor a table at a fundraising event and send employees to actively and enthusiastically participate in the event.
- ~Provide a team of volunteer workers to an organization to help set up and run a fundraising event.
- ~Donate leftover materials or excess product to an organization that can use them.
Community Engagement Can be Good for Employee Morale
Community engagement can mean supporting individual employees’ community efforts or organizing company-wide volunteer events in your local community. In either case, promoting community engagement can strengthen your team, provide an opportunity to be part of something good, reinforce individual values, and shine the spotlight on employees for “off the clock” achievements. Ideas to support community engagement include:
- ~Offering employees paid volunteer hours to promote community involvement.
- ~Trading costly team-building retreats for a day of community service followed by a simple family-style dinner.
- ~Providing a charity-giving matching program.
- ~Recognizing employees who reach volunteer hours goals.
- ~Encouraging your capable employees to seek board of director or other leadership roles with their chosen charity.
A Community Engagement Policy is Good Business Practice (It’s Okay to Say “No”)
The more successful your business is, the more requests you’ll receive. No one wants to be the one to say “no.” If you have a policy in place, it can say “no” on behalf of the business. When a community member solicits a donation, it’s much easier to say, “I’m sorry but our policy is to focus our giving efforts on our chosen charity (or cause).” An employee, perhaps the 10th in your organization seeking a walk-a-thon sponsorship, can be referred to the community-engagement policy in the employee handbook.
Additionally, a policy can prevent animosity among employees or community members by setting expectations for company giving. Having a written community-engagement policy in place and following it consistently establishes the opportunities available, the limits, and, in turn, a sense of fairness.
Finally, a policy can assist with financial planning. If you set an annual limit on community giving and stick to it, this item becomes a known expense each year rather than an unpredictable budget item. Be sure to work closely with your tax professional to properly account for the business’s charitable giving activities.
Policies are Flexible
One final word—it’s a policy, not a hard and fast rule. Business owners should have the authority to adjust the policy to meet emerging circumstances. If an employee is stricken with cancer, a tornado rips through your community, or five employees have children in the same school play . . . then go ahead and contribute.