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Making the case for community involvement

- Cory W. Sharp is an intern architect at FEH Design in Des Moines and the current president of the Young Professionals Connection. 

Today is the third of three posts on the value of community engagement. In the first post, Sharp let his friend Kim Hanken write about the value of being involved in your community. Yesterday, Sharp gave advice to millennials on how to find companies that share their community interests. Today, he writes about the benefits for companies to have a culture of community engagement. 

Being active in the Young Professionals Connection, I'm surrounded by millennials who are active in our community. But it's important for employers to recognize that it's not just the YPC crowd that wants to be involved in community causes through their work.

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Hard evidence is all around us that millennials want to work for companies with a culture that encourages volunteerism.

From what I've seen, it honestly doesn't take too much explaining to the vast majority of business owners and bosses in the Des Moines metro because they already get it. But promoting that culture is important for employers to consider when thinking about how to encourage productivity, employee retention and healthy workplace morale.

For those few who still aren't convinced, it's easy for employees to make a persuasive case that community involvement is worth the investment. It starts, as I mentioned yesterday, with "building the business reputation, business recognition, networking opportunities, and opportunities to improve the community," according to a 2012 Dun and Bradstreet story, "Community Involvement Helps Generate Capital."

It definitely doesn't stop there. You can also cite a May 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research that 4 of 5  consumers -- 82 percent -- consider corporate social responsibility when deciding what companies they want to do business with, where they shop and what they buy.

And there's more. Like the 2013 article in Entrepreneur, "The Power of Giving Back: How Community Involvement Can Boost Your Bottom Line," that reinforces the case. In it, writer Lindsay Lavine quotes philanthropy consultant Erin Giles as saying, "I've found that customers really want to know how you're making the world a better place."

Having a strong community presence can set a business apart from the competition. And that's smart business.

Lavine contends that community service should be much more than an afterthought; it should be part of the company's business plan. (That makes it pretty important, in my book.) Her suggestion is to consider four things, in particular, when putting a community service plan on paper.

Step one is building relationships in the community by focusing on what groups or issues really need attention. The second step -- getting employees on board with community involvement -- builds a collaborative and inspired team by providing "leadership opportunities for employees, which leads to increased staff performance and fulfillment and, ultimately, increased productivity and sales," Lavine writes, citing Giles' expertise.

Bosses may feel more comfortable committing employees to community projects if they follow Step 3 -- creating a custom volunteer plan in which they weigh employees' strengths and choose activities based on their specific strengths.

And, finally, it seems counterintuitive because we're always told not to brag about our good deeds, but businesses shouldn't hide their community involvement. In fact, Giles recommends that companies put a dollar value on employees' volunteer activities based on the cost of their donated time. Doing that will make it much easier for existing and prospective clients to measure a company's charitable contributions to the community.

So, when you're making the case to your boss that he or she should let you get more involved in community causes through work, don't just take the word of an opinionated millennial like me. Go in to the boss well-armed with all the facts you can put together, and you'll be able to convince even the biggest skeptic that it's in the company's best interest for employees to roll up their sleeves and get involved in community causes.

If they still don't change their mind, it just might be time for you to find a boss who shares the same commitment to our community that you do.

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