Good works for business Featured

8:00pm EDT September 20, 2006
Businesses that partner with charitable organizations send a powerful message to their employees and to the community: The world is larger than an 8-foot cubicle space, and the business of caring pays great dividends.

“Volunteerism shows that you care about where you live and work,” says Craig Johnson, president of Franklin Bank in Southfield. The cultural benefits that a company gains by encouraging employees to participate in a chosen nonprofit’s activities builds a team of well-rounded workers.

“Find a cause that you have a passion about — something that means something to you,” Johnson says. “Then, what you’ll find is over that time, as you get involved and network with individuals in that group and other nonprofits, the interaction can create opportunities for you to make business contacts.”

Smart Business talked with Johnson about ways to find an organization that aligns with your business philosophy and how to engage employees in the selected cause.

What are some qualities a business owner might seek in a nonprofit organization?
There are several characteristics you should consider. First, is the organization fulfilling a need in the community that you feel strongly about? That is the most important. Here are some others questions to ask:

  • Are the group’s heartstrings connected to a business plan? There is nothing more frustrating than getting involved with an association that has a very worthy cause, but is drifting. Unfortunately, the fatal flaw of some nonprofits is that their community giving approach is not supported by a solid infrastructure - or financial plan. They don’t take enough of a business approach, and therefore end up sidelining their altruistic goals

 

  • What does the organization want to accomplish? I suggest sitting down with the executive director so you can get a flavor for the agency’s vision. Gauge its business savvy. If you dedicate money and time, will it truly benefit the cause — or will your efforts get tangled in a web of disorganization?

 

  • Does the agency’s mission touch your core beliefs? Choose a cause that is in line with your personal or core beliefs as a company.

Take advantage of board position opportunities. Involvement on a nonprofit board allows you to share ideas and interact with other businesspeople in your community. Certainly, you can take the skills you learn by serving on a nonprofit board and apply them to your business — and vice-versa. Also, you will network with other executives, which could prove valuable for your business down the road.

How can business owners find organizations in their area?
One way is to get involved with the local United Way, which will connect you with many different charitable groups. For some time, I sat on the allocation committee for the United Way. Participating in this process was fascinating. It gave me a clear idea of which organizations were run well.

Another approach is to consult your employees. Find out who is involved in what organizations. Tell them you want to choose an agency that the company will support, and ask if they have ideas. If the association is personal, more employees will rally around the cause.

How can you encourage employees to participate in fundraising activities sponsored by the chosen association?
Recognition is important. Make sure there is a mechanism in the business to reward employees who participate. You don’t want anyone to feel like that they are volunteering at the expense of their work or paycheck. Also, you have to encourage participation. Volunteerism provides meaningful experiences for your employees.

Ultimately, what does a business’s involvement in a charitable group say to the community?
If your employees participate in a walk-a-thon and wear T-shirts with your company name, people remember that. When you notice that a company is involved with a local charity, you might choose to do business with that company. Volunteerism gets your name out in a subtle way, but more important is the fact that you are supporting the community in which you live and work. And in today’s economy, companies that can’t give as much financially can give their time. That is just as valuable as writing a check.

CRAIG JOHNSON is president and CEO of Franklin Bank in Southfield. Reach him at clj@franklinbank.com or (248)386-9860.