Businesses with good community relationships are more likely to show healthy profits

The Sydney Morning Herald, February 22, 2005

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The huge outpouring of corporate and personal generosity for the Asian tsunami appeal has shown Australians are indeed open-hearted people. And the experience of being part of such a groundswell of giving does, for many people, create a sense of being bonded together for the common good.

But why should this happen only in times of crisis? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that companies which have a well-structured corporate giving program, whether it’s in cash or in kind, are more highly regarded by the community, their customers, staff and prospective employees.

A number of ratings indices now assess major companies on their corporate social responsibility, and forward-thinking small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are also realising the growing importance of being seen to be a good corporate citizen.

According to the most recent ‘Eye on Australia’ report by Grey Worldwide and Sweeney Research, more than three quarters of respondents believe corporate Australia only thinks of profits, is greedy and selfish.

When asked what makes a successful company, 85 per cent say a good presence at a local level and giving back to the community. These factors ranked in the top 10 attributes of corporate success.

And in ‘Passion People’, a recent Cavill + Co survey that looks at how companies’ charitable commitments impact on the workplace, 83 per cent of people would rather work for a company that supported causes, provided all other employment factors were equal.

Nearly half would seek out employment opportunities at such a company, while just over three quarters want to be involved choosing the organisations the company supports and the projects for which they could volunteer in work time, according to Hailey Cavill, managing director of Cavill + Co.

“Companies which consult their employees about the cause they should support, then give them opportunities to volunteer for that cause, will gain a competitive edge over companies that have no charitable involvement,” Cavill says.

Being able to show the difference your company makes to a cause is more than twice as important to consumers than the amount of money you give, according an earlier Cavill + Co survey, ‘Heart and Sold’.

But this kind of community engagement needn’t cost a fortune to be successful. What it does need is clear thinking about objective, intentions and measurement (see breakout) and strong staff involvement.

Because if there’s no brand alignment between your company and the cause, and if your staff have no interest in supporting it, your efforts may be wasted.

When Rhys Williams, marketing director of the industrial 4logik Alliance, decided it was time to shift from cash donations and “tokenistic” relationships to a holistic community model, he assembled a project team of six people from 4logik’s 100 staff.

“We looked at our involvement with the community, and it was quite sporadic. I’m not sure whether either party was receiving much benefit from our traditional approach,” Williams says.

His team came from operations, human resources, administration, marketing and IT. Aside from contributing diverse skills, the team members could also become cause champions within their own departments.

As 4logik is involved with wide-ranging industrial projects, it decided to choose causes representing each of the four elements: earth, wind, fire and water.

The first relationship, representing water, is with the Thirroul Lifesaving Club. Both partners wanted a relationship of at least three years, and more than simply a financial involvement.

Williams has personally taken up an invitation to help patrol beaches and is training to become a surf lifesaver, his IT department is helping with the club’s website and some employees are joining the club’s fundraising trivia nights.

The company’s boardroom and other facilities are available for meetings, apprenticeships may be offered to surf lifesaving ‘nippers’ and 4logik management is willing to introduce club leaders to other people in the Illawarra region who may also be able to assist them.

“To get employee buy-in, you need to go to them with a flexible approach,” Williams says. “Rather than putting something to them, it’s saying ‘how would you like to contribute’.

“Management does need to be able to bite the bullet and say ‘I’m prepared for staff to not come in on a day when they’re working for a cause’.”

But this is not always easy, according to Alan Bates, manager volunteer services with Wesley Mission in Sydney.

The mission is becoming more dependent on corporate volunteers as the traditional retiree volunteers stay longer in the workforce, travel or look after their grandchildren. And while CEOs might support corporate volunteering, in reality supervisors often say they can’t afford to let staff go.

Bates suggests management should look at their business cycle when scheduling volunteer projects, and ensure their timing is realistic. Some companies set aside a day around Christmas or Easter, undertake a community activity in the morning then share lunch or dinner.

If a group of volunteers cleans up a building or puts in a new garden, the achievement and impact can be “huge” for Wesley staff and volunteers alike.

“Corporates large and small are realising it’s worth their while to align themselves with charities and communities, and that they can contribute on a number of different levels.

“People have woken up to the fact that it’s just too easy to give money, and that there are other benefits such as group growth,” Bates says.

While working together in the community, employees often open up in unexpected ways and give insights into personal issues that may explain behaviours back in the workplace, he says.

Anthony Toope, marketing manager for Kyocera Australia, has found volunteering is “great for team building and morale”.

Kyocera, which has a strong environmental focus, encourages its 60 NSW employees to join its annual Business Clean Up Day project.

Toope says staff look forward to the event, at which they tackle a local reserve. Four wheel drive owners winch out large objects such as car bodies, and the team gets “up to their necks in dirt and mud” until the company-sponsored lunchtime barbecue.

Kyocera is a sponsor of Clean Up Australia, and Toope says Business Clean Up Day is a practical expression of its sponsorship and environmental philosophy, particularly for new employees.

Companies that aren’t sure how to go about community engagement or corporate volunteering will find dozens of leads at www.govolunteer.com.au, an initiative of Volunteering Australia. A guide to employee volunteering can be found at www.volunteeringaustralia.org.

Denise Fox, business development manager of Go Volunteer says the site has 5000 organisations offering about 8500 volunteer positions.

“This is a great place to do a bit of research about the sort of things they want to do without having to make that commitment initially.”

Volunteers can use their professional skills including researching or accounting, or become involved in areas such as animal care, conservation work, painting fishes on drains as a reminder not to litter or even crafting pouches for orphaned possums.

Fox says it’s important for SMEs think ahead if they want to find the right volunteer project.

To properly match a company’s goals with those of a not for profit organisation (NPO), and to arrange an appropriate program for a group of employees might take up to three months.

Case Study

Joint planning was key to the successful outcomes from the ‘How much is that doggie in the window’ fundraising promotion by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and the Queen Victoria Building (QVB).

The two organisations have a long-standing relationship, and for the QVB’s group marketing manager, John Klein of Ipoh Management Services, it was essential they develop the event together.

“Having that flexibility to work with your major sponsor so you get a win-win situation is so important.”

According to Jenny McCaffery, fundraising manager of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, a change in legislation meant the organisation had to update the famous dogs that have been collection points in the community for around 30 years.

Guide Dogs decided to ask well-known artists to paint the redundant dogs, which Sotheby’s agreed to auction. A target of $50,000 was set, but the auction of 32 dogs generated $118,000 and significant publicity for all partners.

Klein says the promotion was very attractive for several reasons. He is keen on events that involve his retailers, and by displaying dogs in outlets through the QVB he could increase pedestrian traffic throughout the building.

While very selective about his promotional partners, Klein likes to work with NPOs because it’s important QVB be seen to be giving back to the community. He also sees good brand alignment between QVB and Guide Dogs.

“Guide Dogs has been around for a long time, and so has QVB. Both brands are established, well recognised and well loved.”

As retailers contribute a significant amount to QVB’s marketing fund, Klein must be able to measure outcomes. In this case, foot traffic increased by .5 per cent, publicity was valued at about $700,000 and retailers applauded the event because it generated so much goodwill.

BreakoutRules of partnership engagement for SMEs

  • Clarity of intention and objectives – if you want brand alignment, think carefully about what causes would enhance your brand. If you want to motivate employees, ensure the NPO can provide safe and meaningful volunteer opportunities.
  • Provision list – brainstorm how your company can support an NPO beyond money, eg your contacts (PR and advertising agencies), your IT department cleaning up a donor database, or provision of company products.
  • Needs analysis – ask your prospective NPO partner to list all their needs and compare with your own list. Can you support the charity in a variety of ways without denting the bottom line too severely?
  • Communicate – what you are doing, particularly the social outcomes, to your customers, staff and other stakeholders, as this can positively impact your brand and corporate reputation.

  • Formal agreement – ensure you have an agreement letter or MOU that clearly sets out the details and accountabilities of the partnership.
  • Measurement – it’s a lot easier to justify investment (whether time, products, people or cash) if you can show benefit for your company. Setting objectives ensures you measure both social and business outcomes.
  • Patience – the best business/NPO partnerships take time to create, develop and grow.
  • Longevity – aim for a commitment of three years. Your partnership will be viewed as more genuine, and will have time to evolve and make a real difference to the NPO.

Useful websites for corporate community engagement

From Cavill + Co.