You can’t put a price on the goodwill that is generated by community participation. It’s intangible, but powerful. That feeling someone gets when they hear the name of your company and think, “If I need that service, I will go to them, because they do XYZ here in town.”
Sustainable community involvement starts with passion. And that takes some thought beforehand.
Making an impact
You might not like McDonald’s hamburgers, but you no doubt have a positive reaction to Ronald McDonald houses, which provide lodging and other services for families of critically ill children near hospitals. What’s not to like about that? And the genius of it is that, while McDonald’s started the charity, they now have millions of people who regularly contribute to it to help it expand and succeed.
Those houses, and in the case of Ronald McDonald houses, started with Fred Hill (a Philadelphia Eagles football player) who had a child with leukemia. He got his team, the local children’s hospital, McDonald’s and local citizens to build the first house.
Now there are more than 377 houses worldwide, serving more than 10 million families since 1974.
Different kinds of involvement
When you decide to become more visibly involved in the community, you have some options. The first is to join forces with an established charity – like the Cancer Society or Heart Association. The benefit is that there are lots of things already in place for you to make it easy to participate. The downside is that your name will get lost in the soup of other companies. It won’t be your program.
The second option is to come up with a way to get involved on your own, or in participation with other local companies. Of course, it means you have to set up all the systems and infrastructure yourself, but it associates your name with your cause in a way that can’t be forgotten.
How do you start?
What gets you excited, or touches your heart, or needs attention in your community? Those are great places to start planning to make a mark and make a difference for those around you. Consider these options:
Sports leagues – Is there a sport you love, or that your kids/grandkids are active in? There are many sponsorship options you can look into, including signage or banners at games, your logo on equipment and uniforms, etc.
Everybody loves animals. Work with a local animal shelter, adoption group, rescue centre, or Trap/Neuter/Release program to provide quality care for the furry friends among us. Or, if you are an avid birder or fisher, support clubs that focus on those activities.
Health issues – Though many ‘diseases’ already have charities, is there a specific person in your community who needs special care? An employee who has a family member with a condition that you can support? A local health clinic that needs diapers for babies or toys for sick children?
Hobbies can be a springboard for support. Maybe the local model airplane group has races open to the public. Perhaps your love of books makes you want to sponsor some book clubs with funds to purchase books or otherwise make it possible for them to meet together. Literacy programs always need volunteers and help. What do you love to do? How can you turn it into something you can support as a company, not just do on the side?
Another consideration is, what do your customers like? A cleaner in Edmonton that serves high-end customers supported the local opera for many years. They cleaned the costumes and ran promotions for tickets. It’s a natural fit. A one-price-per-piece cleaner might want to choose something else.
Use your participation to reinforce key parts of your mission statement. For instance, if you want to show your concern for the environment, and it is truly part of the way you process clothing and run your business, being involved in local clean-up activities goes a long way to show you are serious.
And then what?
Once you’ve settled on how you want to be involved, sit down and make a plan with your staff of all the ways you can participate. It goes far beyond just putting your logo on stuff and calling that ‘participation’.
Put signage in your reception area letting customers know you support a cause and encourage them to participate.
Attach fliers to orders going out about events that you are supporting, to reinforce your community involvement commitment and get others interested.
Give more than money. Encourage your employees to volunteer, provide T-shirts or hats with the event and your logo on them, let them wear them at the plant for customers to see, keep a chart of the volunteer hours your staff works posted in the lobby.
Be enthusiastic about community participation. Take photos at charity walks or building days for housing for the poor or at sports events. Put up the photos in the lobby and/or include one on the information you give out about upcoming events. Especially if your staff are in them, these are a great way to show and reinforce a corporate culture of involvement.
You don’t have to limit yourself to one passion, or leave it open-ended. You may be working to help a specific person or group in the community, and when that need is met it would be tempting to stop. Or, the person with passion who is driving the involvement may leave the company and others don’t want to continue. It’s fine to say, “For the next 6 months we are supporting ABC in every way we can,” and then move to another project.
On the other hand, if a particular project really gains traction, continues to interest the community, and comes to be associated with your company’s name, keep it up! And maybe take on smaller projects on the side as well.
Just remember the goal of community involvement – is to benefit the community. The fact that you get some kudos from the people who live there is a side benefit. What makes it all worthwhile is that you are making your community better just because you’re there.
Have a story of great community involvement? Let us know! And don’t forget to send pictures.
Becca Anderson spent 17 years in public relations, advertising and corporate PR before joining Fabricare Canada in 2000. She was named editor in 2013, and welcomes feedback about the magazine via the contact form on this site.