Community involvement: a mission Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

Besides the feel-good payback of giving your time and talent to community organizations, involvement in the array of nonprofit, professional and out-reach programs in your region shows employees and the public that your business is concerned about much more than the bottom line.

“Because of negative perceptions some people have of corporations, they believe that businesses are cutthroat at all costs and only care about profit,” says Greg Greene, vice president, business banking for Fifth Third Bank in Northern Kentucky. “Strong community involvement sends a message to politicians, leaders and residents that you have a broader sense or purpose than profit, and that leaves a great impression on your community.”

Smart Business asked Greene to discuss the benefits of encouraging community involvement and provides advice on how initiate a company campaign.

What challenges do employers confront when balancing business and community involvement?

Corporations’ contributions to community organizations have always been significant and important, and the same is true today. The key is to create a culture of giving — to communicate that time spent outside the office on community projects and volunteering for nonprofit organizations is part of every worker’s job description. This is tough today as employees are consistently squeezed for time and pushed to produce more with fewer resources. It is easy to brush aside ‘extras’ and to say, ‘I’m too busy.’ But we’re all busy. We simply have to make the time to get involved, and the payoff is worth any personal sacrifice.

What benefits will executives and employees gain when they are engaged in the community?

There are intangibles that you receive and immediate benefits by getting involved in community groups. First, you begin to understand the pulse of the community — what is going on outside of your company and your own cubicle. You learn how the community operates, who the decision-makers are, and what projects and initiatives are on the table. You meet people in similar business situations, and you can leverage these relationships. You may develop a rapport with someone in another industry or even a competitor who becomes a sounding board. Also, by giving your time to a committee outside of your own corporation, you have a great opportunity to showcase your talents in front of a diverse group of people. Eventually, you build credibility in your community. You can help set the stage for change in your local business environment, whether through participating in legislative reform through a chamber of commerce or serving dinners to families in a homeless shelter. Community involvement will change your perspective.

What enrichment will corporations experience, over time, as they reach out to the community?

Your good work gives a positive impression of your company, but community engagement is so much more than this. You build a stronger work force by showing employees that business is more than ‘sell, sell, sell.’ By encouraging volunteerism in any number of groups — trade associations, outside boards or charitable organizations — your business proves that being a good neighbor is important. It’s not enough to pay tax dollars to support the city. Time, talent, advocacy, participation, kindness — these contributions are equally important. Also, when employees take part in large-group events like a 5K walk to support a charity or prepare a community meal for the homeless, they get to know one another on a personal basis.

How can executives encourage employees to get involved in the community? What are the first steps?

First, executives have to set the example at the top by participating and sharing their positive experiences with employees. Form a committee to come up with an action plan, and survey the staff to learn about their interests. What organizations will they support? Are there causes that are close to their hearts? Is anyone already involved in a group that the company can support on a broader basis? You may choose a large-group event so everyone can participate, such as a walk or other fundraiser; but also encourage individual involvement. Ask employees to report their volunteer efforts, and reward those who give their time and talents by sharing their successes at company meetings, in newsletters and in corporate e-mails. Then, tally this time by tracking hours on an annual basis. How much does your company give?

Encouraging community involvement is the best ‘perk’ you can give your employees because the payback is immeasurable. The personal satisfaction, learning, connections and feeling of giving back to others are not gains that come from a salary or bonus check.

GREG GREENE is vice president, business banking for Fifth Third Bank in Northern Kentucky. Reach him at Greg.Greene@53.com or (859) 283-8511.