Give back and receive

Corporate charity is good for business.
That’s because experts link companies that have high levels of productivity and retention to corporate cultures of
integrity and community giving. Within the
top-performing companies, an effective
community affairs program serves as the
glue that binds the company to the community and the employees to their company.

“Certainly, giving back to the community
demonstrates strong social responsibility,
and it also helps build the community that
supports your business,” says Curtis
Stokes, vice president for community affairs at Fifth Third Bank. “But, in addition,
an effective community affairs program
creates high morale, it helps marketing
build a brand and, when your staff is out
there in the community, it also generates
positive media exposure.”

Smart Business, spoke with Stokes about
the benefits of community affairs and what
makes a program effective.

Why is community affairs valuable?

Through personal involvement, employees become the face of the organization as
they immerse themselves into the community. When they bump up against other
community leaders, they get the opportunity to transfer your company’s brand, mission and vision, and that interpersonal contact generates dividends. For example, an
employee might meet another business
leader at an event, and that person will suddenly remember hearing your company’s
advertisement because that human connection pulls it all together for him.
Employees also feel better about their
organization and their role when they have
the opportunity to represent the company
at events outside of work because it provides balance. Statistically, it’s been proven
that retention and productivity improve
when employees are involved in the community because it gives employees a sense
of purpose and pride, which builds morale
and engagement.

How can senior leadership be involved?

Senior leaders can set the tone by serving
on boards of nonprofit organizations. They not only lend their business and professional expertise to these organizations, but
they help raise funds to support the cause,
and personal involvement from senior
leaders demonstrates that the company is
committed to giving back to the community. At Fifth Third Bank, our officers are not
only involved through board participation,
but the bank provides financial support to
the organizations where they serve. In
addition, senior leaders get the opportunity
to network with other executives and community leaders, which builds external relationships that benefit the company.

How can managers play a role?

Managers should serve on nonprofit
board committees, where they can lend
their expertise and also reap the benefits of
networking. Nonprofit organizations frequently need participants for finance, audit
or development committees, so accounting
and finance professionals or members of
the marketing department often volunteer
to serve on these committees. To make certain the time commitment is beneficial for
everyone, survey your management team
members about their interests, and then
match them to organizations that support your company’s visibility goals and philanthropic mission.

How can employees be involved?

Employees benefit the community and
their company by volunteering their time in
supporting local events, such as cancer
walks or charity fund-raisers. Select three
or four events each year that the company
would like to sponsor and get everyone
involved by raising money and sponsoring
teams. Walks are often good events to
sponsor because they are team-oriented,
so employees can reach out and engage
family, friends and customers, creating a
circle of support and awareness for the
event and your company. Also, having your
company’s name associated with sponsorship creates good will within the community and a positive corporate image. We
provide our employees with lapel pins
when we support an event; people notice
them and comment, which creates excitement about the event and positive conversation about the bank.

What are the best practices for dovetailing
community affairs and marketing?

Jointly set a strategy that links your marketing program with your foundational
support, community involvement, community development and other corporate giving programs. Once the strategy is set,
establish selection criteria for the events
and organizations your company will support that will give your organization the
right visibility. Include the goal of supporting key customer relationships through
joint involvement or the opportunity to
place an executive at a board level in a nonprofit organization with high visibility. This
step also helps companies target their
annual giving through foundation grants or
matching fund programs. Finally, use press
releases to let the public know about your
involvement and sponsorships and create
internal campaigns to drive employee
interest and energy.

CURTIS STOKES is vice president for community affairs at Fifth Third Bank. Reach him at [email protected] or (813) 306-2488.