Most communities have them – large corporate employers that bring valuable jobs and revenue to the local economy, whether it’s a BMW manufacturing facility in rural South Carolina or a major Fortune 500 firm in downtown Dallas, Texas.
How those companies choose to interact with their respective locales, however, can make a world of difference to area nonprofits and issue-based community organizations. By making targeted investments in these communities, companies and corporations can generate a wellspring of attention and support that breeds involvement and benefits.
Strategic philanthropy is the term used for this kind of activity. Investing in a community’s well-being can be as simple as an automotive manufacturer introducing a program to educate young drivers on safety. It can extend to include a companywide push to encourage employees to volunteer. Even small efforts add value, regardless of the size of the community, according to a report by APCO Worldwide.
Philanthropic activities can build brand awareness and generate a groundswell of advocacy that is tangible and measureable. When people know that a particular company supports a specific cause, they become more invested in that company, which benefits business.
Likewise, employees who understand that they can make a difference outside the boardroom or away from the assembly line are more likely to want to work for a company that gives back to its community.
Companies also can identify and highlight opportunities to merge business objectives with community priorities. This focused convergence doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. It can reap rewards simply by serving as a recognizable example that a corporation is aware of its environment and the people who live there.
A report in Company Week, the online publication of the Rocky Mountain manufacturing industry in Colorado, highlighted ways corporate philanthropy works best.
The publication recommended that companies first identify and understand the reason they choose to give back. Whether designed to increase employee loyalty and recruitment or improve brand awareness and customer support, strategic philanthropy works best when it is focused.
Companies also must recognize exactly who is directly affected by their actions, whether shareholders, customers, neighbors or community activists, and then target ways to interact with and engage those demographics.
Successful philanthropic endeavors utilize all corporate resources to champion specific causes. This all-in approach often is more effective than a scattered or random effort.
Having a plan and communicating that plan to the right people also is paramount. Without an open, accessible back and forth, specific endeavors can be undermined by failing to reach the intended audience or not heeding on-point feedback that might improve the effort.
The public, as well as internal employees and invested shareholders, can tell when a company is serious about a philanthropic endeavor. Any effort to create a movement toward a specific goal has to be transparent and authentic. It’s not good enough to simply announce an intention. Companies must follow through or potentially be exposed as disingenuous, which can damage support and weaken morale.
The University of Notre Dame, through its Applied Business Strategies program, provides a roadmap for interested participants wanting to learn how to conceive and execute an effective strategic philanthropy plan.
As part of the school’s Executive Certificate in Business Administration program, the Applied Business Strategies course teaches techniques for evaluating corporate resources, developing a pitch, implementing a strategy, measuring success and overcoming mistakes.
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