Com­mu­ni­ty­in­vest­ment­can­pay­div­i­dends for­busi­ness­esaswellifthey­doitright

National Post (Latest Edition) - Financial Post Magazine - - COLUMNS & DEPARTMENTS -

Three things to con­sider when mak­ing com­mu­nity in­vest­ments.

There are plenty of rea­sons why com­pa­nies give money to char­i­ties and non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions, both al­tru­is­tic and business-re­lated. A 2011 study by Imag­ine Canada found that 50% of busi­nesses said it was very im­por­tant to build strong com­mu­ni­ties be­cause ul­ti­mately that’ s good for business. But 48% said giv­ing fit their com­pany’ s val­ues and tra­di­tions and 45% felt it was just a good thing to do, regardless of any fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits.

One thing is for sure: It’ s big money. Ma nu life Fi­nan­cial Inc ., for ex­am­ple, con­trib­uted $32.8 mil­lion to “thou­sands of non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions” world­wide in 2014. Most ef­forts, of course, are much smaller. The Imag­ine study found that 97% of large busi­nesses do­nated money, com­pared to 76% over­all, and gave an average of $190,000 ver­sus $2,000.

But even $2,000 is noth­ing to sneeze at, which is why it’ s im­por­tant that com­pa­nies of all sizes care­fully con­sider their com­mu­nity in­vest­ment ef­forts, whether they are spend­ing money, do­nat­ing prod­ucts in kind, or set­ting up a vol­un­teer pro­gram for their em­ploy­ees .“I’m a big be­liever in it’ s not about how much you in­vest, it’ s about how ef­fec­tively you in­vest ,” says Stephanie Robert­son, CEO and founder of S im­pact Strat­egy Group, a Toronto-based agency that man­ages, mea­sures and val­ues a cor­po­ra­tion’ s so­cial im­pact ef­forts .“The best strat­egy in the world needs to have an im­ple­men­ta­tion plan and it needs to have a mea­sure­ment plan .”

Here, Robert­son of­fers three ques­tions to ask your­self to help en­sure a suc­cess­ful com­mu­nity in­vest­ment be­fore sign­ing up. WHO ARE YOU TRY­ING TO EN­GAGE? It’ s ob­vi­ously nice to give back to the com­mu­ni­ties your com­pany does business in, but how you give de­pends on whether you’ re try­ing to en­gage em­ploy­ees, cus­tomers or other stake­hold­ers and whether a com­mu­nity in­vest­ment is the right ve­hi­cle to achieve that goal. If the de­ci­sion is made to vol­un­teer your em­ploy­ees, it’ s im­por­tant to make sure the cho­sen theme is mean­ing­ful to them and that se­nior lead­er­ship is also in­volved.

“There needs to bean ex­ec­u­tive cham­pion who’ s there say­ing, This is im­por­tant tome, this is im­por­tant to the com­pany and I’ d love it if you would sup­port me in this ,” Robert­son says. One cave at, how­ever, is that em­ploy­ees should not feel pres­sured to par­tic­i­pate. En­cour­age­ment is fine, but don’ t cross the line into bul­ly­ing. There’ s also a rep­u­ta­tion al risk if se­nior man­agers don’ t show up after ca­jol­ing their em­ploy­ees to do so. Re­mem­ber that their time is just as valu­able as yours. WHAT CRI­TE­RIA ARE YOU US­ING? The cri­te­ria used to se­lect an in­vest­ment are of­ten over­looked, Robert­son says. The strat­egy clearly needs to res­onate at the most se­nior level, but it should also align with the com­pany’ s brand and the key mes­sages that both it and the re­cip­i­ent want to pro­vide.

Like­wise, the cri­te­ria used to de­ter­mine suc­cess need to be clear and com­mu­ni­cated to the or­ga­ni­za­tion you choose to part­ner with .“In my ex­pe­ri­ence, com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions ac­tu­ally re­spond very, very well to a con­ver­sa­tion about what the ob­jec­tives are ,” she says. But re­mem­ber, the more com­pre­hen­sive the eval­u­a­tion you’ re ask­ing for, the more you need to be com­fort­able fund­ing what is an ad­min­is­tra­tive func­tion. HOW ARE YOU GO­ING TO IM­PLE­MENT IT? What­ever strat­egy is cho­sen needs to be con­sis­tent and con­sis­tently im­ple­mented so that you don’ t have em­ploy­ees skirt­ing rules they don’ t un­der­stand or might not agree with .“Com­pa­nies tend to spend a lot of time on con­cept, but over look the im­ple­men­ta­tion piece ,” Robert­son says .“It shouldn’ t take six months to re­spond to a re­quest be­cause the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process is so ar­du­ous .”

It’ s also im­por­tant to do health and safety checks if em­ploy­ees are go­ing to an event be­cause there are li­a­bil­ity is­sues. It may sound like over kill, but bet­ter safe than sorry.

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