How corporate charity in your local community exponentially helps your company

Kathleen Zenisek, Marketing Director, First State Bank

Philanthropy can do more than make you feel good. In fact, recent studies show it can improve financial performance, enhance brand image and reputation, drive sales and customer loyalty, and increase a business’s ability to attract and retain employees. Additionally, research has shown when price and quality are equal, more than 75 percent of consumers would switch brands when a company is associated with a good cause.

“Businesses have many ways to establish a charitable giving program, oftentimes choosing to support causes that touch an organization or that their employees feel strongly about,” says Kathleen Zenisek, marketing director with First State Bank. “This may entail supporting national or global causes, which make the nation and the world a better place, but dollars locally spent can have a profound impact on your world and direct marketplace.”

Smart Business
spoke with Zenisek about how to localize your philanthropic efforts and support causes that help those in your community.

How can a business learn more about the needs in its local community?

In metropolitan Detroit, there are three programs — Leadership Detroit, Macomb and Oakland — that help local leaders expand their knowledge about the assets and issues in their respective counties and surrounding region.

The nine-month program, which starts in September, requires participants to meet once a month for a day to learn about a specific topic that affects the county, including government, education, health and human services, arts, religion, business, justice, the environment and more. With unique learning experiences, exclusive field trips and tours, and access to a variety of proven leaders, graduates emerge from their experience eager to make a difference.

With so many overwhelming needs, how can a business decide between national or local charities?

Giving locally makes sense because you know where and how your dollars are being spent. Local charities and nonprofit organizations understand the interests and values of the community. They typically have fewer layers of administration, so more of your money is likely to go directly to the cause.

See if your community has a food bank, soup kitchen or children’s home. Think about what you can do in your community to make a difference and think about your passions. With local donations, you don’t even have to donate money; your time can be just as valuable. For example, First State Bank works with a county food bank that supplies food for 55 neighborhood food pantries and every year organizes a Thanksgiving food drive, which engages customers, as well.

What should a company consider if it wants to align its business with a charity?

Many businesses align their community involvement with their strategic business goals. For instance, an ad agency might support its industry by providing an annual scholarship to an aspiring graphic arts student or donating art supplies to needy schools. Construction companies might consider donating time and materials to organizations that rebuild their own communities. Consider your industry and how your talents and resources can help solve a particular social problem.

As a community bank, First State Bank sees declining property values and resultant foreclosures as one of the biggest issues impacting our community. Despite efforts to keep people in their homes, sometimes houses are reverted to the bank, as with one recent homeowner. We then gave the home to a local school district to begin a hands-on building renovation program, and while the framing and drywall were going up, so was the outlook — and housing value — in the neighborhood.

How can businesses consider developing products that help to better the community?

Sometimes it’s as simple and immediate as offering discounted products or services to veterans or seniors. Other times, the effects are felt later on.

For example, the Detroit regional area has been hit hard with foreclosures. With growing interest in ‘purchase-renovation-sale’ as a means to maximize investment dollars and to improve neighborhood home values, First State Bank developed a short-term loan program for people who personally transform injured or distressed properties, then sell. With this program, vacancies can drop in hard-hit areas, tax revenue can return and real estate agencies are able to aggressively market homes with missing parts. From the buyer to seller to next-door neighbor, it’s a win-win situation for the community. We also recognize that some customers truly need help. Partnering with GreenPath Debt Solutions, a local and respected not-for-profit money management organization, customers are offered debt and credit counseling at no cost.

Not all volunteer and philanthropic opportunities need to have clear-cut business goals. The real goal is to find a local cause or two that you can be passionate about and then support them in a variety of ways. Your sincere, enthusiastic involvement will go a long way toward helping your community and business.

How can being a good corporate citizen benefit businesses?

Perception means a lot to consumers. A recent study showed 80 percent of Americans have a more positive image of businesses that support a cause they care about. Two-thirds said they’re more likely to trust businesses that are aligned with social issues.

Participating in or sponsoring an event may persuade consumers to do business with you. Community events that used to be free to residents are now being re-evaluated, presenting opportunities for businesses to step up. Saving the community’s fireworks, tree lighting ceremony, or movies or concerts in the park from cancellation can make your business a hero.

Giving closer to home can improve quality of life and build a stronger local community.

Kathleen Zenisek is the marketing director with First State Bank. Reach her at (586) 445-6717 or [email protected]

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