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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 306-2488.