Responsible businesses have been rallying for weeks as we battle COVID-19. Apparel companies pivoted to making face masks, distilleries are making hand sanitizer and auto manufacturers rushed to create much needed ventilators. In a sense we’re seeing a new era of responsible business. But serving the communities where companies do business isn’t a new concept. Whether you call it corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship or just doing good business, these acts of kindness have been a part of the social landscape for decades. And while we’re seeing a new form of that unfold as we respond to the pandemic, there’s no time like the present to think about having a social impact strategy for your company or place of business. In a post COVID-19 world it’ll be more than expected.
But before you start serving the community, it’s a good practice to form a strategy. Having a strategy will help you navigate the complexities of addressing critical social and environmental issues while also strengthening your company’s brand reputation and long-term vitality. Here are some actions to get you well on your way to creating a social impact program.
1) Take inventory of your resources:
Companies possess many resources. This includes your employees who can serve as volunteers, financial revenue that can be dispersed as monetary donations and let’s not forget the goods and services you provide to the consumer. Even your product can go a long way when provided to community-based organizations as an in-kind gift. All of which are tools in your social impact arsenal as a company. So, first things first, take inventory of these resources so you know what you have to bear. This will help you identify where you’re best able to support the needs of the communities where you do business.
For example, if you’re a technology company, perhaps you have the skill and know-how to support community-based organizations that invest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education for traditionally disenfranchised communities or those that have suffered inequities. Or if you’re a grocery chain, perhaps you’re in a good position to work with your local food-bank in providing access to fresh and nutritious produce they wouldn’t otherwise receive. There are many ways to think about aligning your business services to the needs of the community. Just be sure you have the correct resources and that it’s a good fit for your company when you’re at the stage of forming partnerships.
This will position your company to serve the community where you’re most equipped to support while adding social value to your brand.
2) Revisit your company’s purpose:
Traditionally businesses have been designed to strictly generate revenue for stakeholders. However, given the current social and environmental landscape we now find ourselves, societal expectations are changing. Consumers are now using their purchase power as a statement of their values. They’re purchasing goods and services from companies they believe are socially and environmentally responsible and align with their values as individuals. It’s becoming increasingly more expected of companies to generate a positive social and environmental change in the communities where they conduct business.
So, beyond generating revenue for your stakeholders, this is a time to revisit your purpose as a company. Think of your company purpose as the reason you exist. Reassess your purpose and perhaps add a social or environmental element to your existence and business strategy. While this will look different for every company, perhaps your purpose (beyond generating revenue) will aid in developing career opportunities in your industry for youth, minorities and other diverse communities.
3) Create a social impact committee:
Most companies don’t have a deep roster of social impact subject matter experts on staff. So, think about creating a social impact committee. And who best to turn to than your employees who may be passionate about community service. Depending on the size of your business, this can be a anywhere from five to eight people. Regardless of number, ensure you have representation made up of senior and mid-level management and even someone who can chair this council. And to the best extent possible ensure the committee is made up of employees with a good cross-section of diversity, both inherent and acquired.
The council will be pivotal in standing up your social impact program initially, while you’re building the foundation of your community service. The council will help guide the community service using a mix of feedback from employees, the community and business priorities.
The council should be charged to drive the direction of your social impact. They should align social impact to your overall brand and renewed purpose, seek to create the guiding principles and policy documents and eventually the service delivery mechanism that connects company resources with community-based organizations.
4) Align community service with a local or national goal:
Often counties and state agencies have goals focused on critical social and environmental issues. Some of these may be related to eliminating homelessness, feeding and developing underserved youth who live in poverty, closing the socioeconomic disparities among minority communities and reducing effects of climate related events. Research these very issues as they relate to where you do business.
While it’s great to think through goals tied to what you’d like to achieve in terms of engagement (i.e. percentage of employees volunteering, dollars donated and hours served) It’s always best to also align your goals with those that exist beyond the walls of your business. Doing so will ensure your achievements ladder to those being collectively achieved by other organizations, businesses and government agencies in the same community.
This is an opportunity to connect with local city, county or state government agencies to take notice of their larger societal and environmental goals. And instead of solely creating goals that exist in a silo, you’ll have an opportunity to support existing networks where collectively you’ll increase impact through greater focus and collaboration.
5) Define your volunteerism and grant giving parameters:
Volunteering and monetary donations to charity are common acts of kindness by many. However, as a company, you’ll want to create policy that’s accessible to employees that clearly communicate the parameters in which they can volunteer while representing the company.
In these policy documents it’ll be important to define volunteering as it relates to employees volunteering as representatives of your brand. This will create guidance on what’s tracked as “company volunteering” versus what may be viewed as a personal endeavor. Some important points to consider would include whether employees can volunteer on company time, if and in what circumstances they’re compensated, if they’re allowed (or encouraged) to wear company branding when serving the community, and whether or not their time planning a volunteer project counts.
Some items you’ll want to discuss with your human resources, legal representation or the senior most employee includes limitations of who you volunteer for as a company. For example, it may be advisable that as a company you refrain from volunteering with religious institutions, political or fraternal organizations that are membership based or for causes that are controversial. All these “do’s and don’ts” should be covered in the policy so that employees know to what extent they can support specific organizations.
And of course, while the policy can’t answer every question in full, they should be able to turn back to your social impact committee to make determinations regarding specific inquiries.
6) Form partnerships with community organizations:
After you’ve been educated of the critical issues in the community, have policy and a council governing your actions, you should connect with community organizations. Using this knowledge, you can canvas the community for organizations that will help you achieve the goals set forth.
Of course, there are many things to consider, but the overriding factor should be focused on the outcomes you’re seeking to achieve in the community. By outcomes I’m referring to the specific goals you’ve created, a part of these being the goals connected with creating immediate and long-term positive change.
As you determine who to support and to what extent you’re able, be sure to enter partnership discussions with inquisitiveness, flexibility, with as little bias as possible and as equal partners. When approaching partnerships open minding and on a level playing field, you’ll establish deeper trust, allowing the relationship to transform from transactional to collaborative. Just Keep in mind, when forming partnerships in the community you should leverage the tools and expertise from the community-based organization. After all, they’re subject matter experts in their fields and they’ll be instrumental to equipping your employees to volunteer.
7) Empower your employees:
While developing relationships with appropriate community-based organizations, you should at the same time work with your human resources, management team, legal counsel and others to create policy that empowers employees to give time.
When you’re working through this process, collaboratively create policy that allows flexibility to volunteer during working hours to the fullest degree possible. Also think through whether memorandums of understanding or letters of intent need to be co-created and signed. In many instances it’s important to create rules of the road, especially when both parties seek to benefit from publicity and outwardly facing communication. Or, perhaps you have limitations on what can be done (i.e. fundraising or soliciting) on company property. Work with legal counsel and human resources to have the correct language for granting special access for the community-based partners you’re supporting. Other policy you may consider would be in the form of a paid volunteer time off policy, or guidance that outlines compensation during volunteer engagement.
In addition to removing barriers to volunteering, you can create toolkits that equip employees to volunteer in ways that are needed by the community. It’s best to not leave things to chance. Toolkits created in collaboration with your community partners will help properly train and guide the actions of employee volunteers.
8) Track, measure and report your impact:
Be sure to measure your progress as you advance on these achievements. As you’re creating the strategy have a data-collection plan that also captures the volunteering, grant giving, and resources given. These metrics should be well documented so you’re able to more effectively share the stories of the work you’re doing in the community.
Seek to collect quantitative metrics like number of volunteers per project, the number of hours they each served, and the output of what was created (i.e. number of meals served, trees planted, or youth engaged). You should also seek to survey and interview your employees who volunteered to capture anecdotal stories, testimonials and experiences.
In addition to the quantitative metrics, work with your community partners to capture longer-term (and critically important) qualitative data that demonstrates the positive change attributed to your actions. Each year compile all the elements of your progress towards your goals and report them to your stakeholders in the form of an annual social impact report. This should be distributed internally and externally to the public. Doing so will help you log your long-term progress towards the goals, demonstrate your social impact in the community and strengthen your brand reputation among the general public and your employees.