Community Engagement and the “Good Guy” Escape Hatch

Everyone wants to be the good guy.

As a business owner, being the “good guy” by engaging your business in the local community through volunteerism and charitable giving can have a positive impact on both parties.

The larger or more public-facing your business is, the more opportunities you will have to be this good guy as community members and employees reach out to you for support of their cause. While it’s great to be in the position to help, you can’t reasonably say “yes” to everything. Having a community-engagement policy in place makes it a lot easier to say “no” to opportunities that don’t align with your business or that aren't mutually beneficial. So next time another adorable uniform-clad kid comes in selling popcorn or cookies or a service-dog organization brings in the big, brown puppy dog eyes seeking a donation, your community engagement policy can help you make the best decision for your business as well as your community and can even be your “escape hatch” from always needing to be the good guy.

Community Engagement Can be Good for Your Business

Every time a customer or prospect sees your business name or logo, you reinforce your marketing efforts and increase your brand awareness. Being active in the community can provide “stealth” marketing and goodwill opportunities, and over time will position you and your business as a community leader. The first step in this process is to seek out a charity with which you would want to align your business. Look for a charity of a size that will meaningfully benefit from the amount or type of contribution the business will make. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Provide a volunteer team to a highway clean-up project and earn a roadside sign with your organization’s name on it. This is also a great team building opportunity.
  • Sponsor a table at a fundraising event and send employees to actively and enthusiastically participate in the event. This helps get your name out and is a fun perk for your employees.
  • Provide a team of volunteer workers to an organization to help set up and run a fundraising event. Another great team building opportunity that can grow your relationships with your employees and the community.
  • Donate leftover materials or excess product to an organization that can use them. Environmentally and community friendly!
  • As the business owner, always try to participate in these volunteer opportunities as well. It will mean a lot to your team and the organization to see you there supporting the cause and chipping in.

Community Engagement Can be Good for Employee Morale

Community engagement can mean supporting individual employees’ community efforts or organizing company-wide volunteer events in your local community. In either case, promoting community engagement can strengthen your team, provide an opportunity to be part of something good, reinforce individual values, and shine the spotlight on employees for “off the clock” achievements.  Ideas to support community engagement include:

  • Offering employees paid volunteer hours to promote community involvement.
  • Trading costly team-building retreats for a day of community service followed by a simple family-style dinner.
  • Providing a charity-giving matching program.
  • Recognizing employees who reach volunteer hours goals.
  • Encouraging your qualified employees to seek board of director or other leadership roles with their chosen charity with the assurance of being able to leave work when necessary to attend meetings and events (within reason).

A Community Engagement Policy is Good Business Practice (It’s Okay to Say “No”)

The more successful your business is, the more requests you’ll receive. No one wants to be the one to say “no” – especially to a worthy organization. But if you have a policy in place, it can say “no” on behalf of the business when it doesn’t align with your engagement goals. When a community member solicits a donation, it’s much easier to say, “I’m sorry but our policy is to focus our giving efforts on our chosen charity (or cause).” An employee looking for a personal sponsorship or donation can also be referred to the community-engagement policy in the employee handbook.

Additionally, a policy can prevent animosity among employees or community members by setting expectations for company giving. Having a written community-engagement policy in place and following it consistently establishes the opportunities available, the limits, and, in turn, a sense of fairness.

Finally, a policy can assist with financial planning. If you set an annual limit on community giving and stick to it, this item becomes a known expense each year rather than an unpredictable budget item. It also makes it very easy to say “no” once the budget has been hit. Be sure to work closely with your tax professional to properly account for the business’s charitable giving activities.

Policies are Flexible

Remember—it’s a policy, not a hard and fast rule. Business owners should have the authority to adjust the policy to meet emerging circumstances.  If an employee is stricken with cancer, a tornado rips through your community, or five employees have children in the same school play . . . then go ahead and be the good guy.   

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