Megatrends in Corporate Community Involvement

February 01, 1995

The management guru, Tom Peters, recently observed that in every one of his books he had made at least one major error. In each case, it was an error of conservatism rather than radicalism. In other words, the pace and extent of change was even faster than he had imagined. In identifying these ten trends in corporate community involvement (CCI), the deliberate intention is to be radical: to focus on the leading edge companies and on the emerging issues.


CCI is meeting both business and community objectives. The business arguments for CCI are going to become more compelling in the late 1990s – and the need for CCI professionals to work out how best to meet business and community needs simultaneously will correspondingly grow. This shift towards a business rationale has intensified because companies have faced:

a severe recession;

the need to justify all their activities

the quest for competitive advantage in a global marketplace;

the search for corporate advantage from CCI in areas like human resources;

the stimulation from ‘evangelical’ CCI companies, leading others to investigate and copy their experience.

There is not a single business case for corporate community involvement; rather the whole series of business arguments (and the relative weight of those arguments) differs from company to company, depending on its sector, on the individual circumstances of that company such as profitability and on issues like employees’ concerns. However business arguments can be summarised simply. CCI can help:

building people;

building business; and

building the licence to operate.

To be sustainable, CCI must be a long-term engagement, producing genuine benefit for the community. Opinion-formers, in particular, are highly sceptical of any CCI which appears short-term and of claiming community benefit when only the business benefits. The ability to identify and promote CCI which achieves – and is clearly seen to achieve – mutual benefits will increasingly be a critical part of the successful CCI professional’s brief.

Finding such win-win-win situations means that:

CCI becomes much more sustainable;

substantially more resources are generated for the community;

the rationale for involvement becomes easier to communicate, so encouraging other companies; and

individual companies can more easily focus their CCI activities.


CCI is involving and responding to employee concerns. Major companies are encouraging their employees to volunteer for community projects, often putting the staff concerned in the driving seat. This ‘people power’ reflects:

the way more companies have tied their CCI to the ‘building the people’ part of the business case;

the recognition that arms’ length cheque-writing to community projects is much less effective (for meeting business or community needs), than a package of corporate assistance;

the realisation that one of the most valuable forms of CCI is the transfer of expertise and skills of employees;

the wish to lever direct cash help to maximise total CCI; and

ever-increasing pressure on CCI funds.

In future, we can expect more companies to:

divide up their CCI with part following employees’ interests and activities, and part devoted to a few flagship projects which help the company address other CCI objectives;

restrict their CCI to those issues and organisations which can engage the time and enthusiasm of their employees; and

operate ‘cash plus’ strategies (cash + time + expertise + other resources such as equipment and premises); some may even operate a cash-less CCI strategy – only staff involvement.


Education, training and social cohesion are becoming priority issues. Companies will continue to support a huge variety of community projects from medical research to homelessness hostels; but now on both sides of the Atlantic, there is strong emphasis on education and training, combined increasingly with concerns about social exclusion. If companies do not get involved in links with schools and with training projects, they face additional costs anyway: either they have to spend that money on remedial education and training; or they have to spend money on wage costs to poach people trained by other companies; or they have to move their operations to other parts of the world where they can find educated labour; or they fail to exploit new markets and new products.


CCI is becoming more holistic. Critics of CCI in the past have often found it all too easy to dismiss business help as tokenistic, window-dressing or dealing with symptoms rather than cures. Now more companies are recognising that isolated, ad hoc, approaches will have only a marginal impact. This is particularly true for what is likely to be a major issue for the rest of this decade: how to handle the long-term, high rates of unemployment and the accompanying sense of alienation and exclusion. This will be seen in better working relationships with governments and in longer term, more broadly based partnerships with community agencies.


CCI is becoming both more international and more local. Two trends are combining – CCI is moving onto the international field while authority is being decentralised both from corporate HQs to local operational management and from parent companies to subsidiary companies and individual brand / local managers.


CCI is influencing public policy. For British companies, one notable feature of the US CCI scene is the willingness of corporations to translate their CCI experiences into public policy positions and then to lobby hard for these, often in very public and high profile ways. In the UK, companies have generally been more reticent. Where they have sought to influence public policy, this has generally been pursued ‘behind closed doors’ in private discussions with ministers or at off-the-record conferences and seminars.

However this British reserve is gradually changing, fuelled by the growing number of vehicles through which businessmen and women are able to influence the public policy agenda; examples include the Training and Enterprise Councils, City Challenge companies and economic development partnerships such as London First.


CCI is being integrated with other business functions. No more will the stand-alone CCI function dispense cash and perhaps secondments, separated from the rest of the business. The CCI manager of the future will be much concerned with advising colleagues in marketing, human resource development, purchasing and public affairs; advising how a CCI dimension in their own activities can help them to achieve their requirements. Public-purpose marketing will grow. Purchasing, too, is a function where business and CCI activities can be combined.


Companies will help to nurture not-for-profits, enabling them to deliver their side of partnerships. For example, management training for community ‘entrepreneurs’ is needed to help them accomplish broad and demanding roles. Companies will move from one-off, in-out contributions towards more strategic relationships with partners. They will also nurture each other, sharing best practice and encouraging newcomers.


Companies will only achieve the full business benefits from their CCI when they communicate the ‘why, what and how’ to their various stakeholders. Some companies are reluctant to publicise their activities, but third party endorsement can be a highly effective communication method: an endorsement from a community group is particularly powerful and convincing. And the community can benefit too. Communicating what the company is doing:

gives added credibility to the not-for-profit partner;

encourages other companies to become involved; and

enhances the company’s reputation with its employees and other stakeholders.


CCI is going beyond launches and lunches to be much more professional. Companies are moving on from wanting to look good, to doing good. They must manage their CCI programmes just as professionally as any other aspect of their business.

It is possible to discern three waves in the changing nature of community involvement. In the first, the rationale is philanthropy, characterised by a passive management approach. In the second, companies become more strategic. Now in the third, management becomes professional and companies invest in the community as part of a business focused approach.

Already, we know some of the elements of effective CCI management. Companies should be able to answer positively to each of the following questions:

Is there commitment, demonstrated by:

a public commitment by the Board of Directors to a policy of quality community involvement?

evidence that CCI is embedded into the mainstream of the company’s operations?

consistency between the companies’ policies and its actual practice?

reporting the results of CCI activities to the AGM, the shareholders and the broader community?

Is there a whole company approach – does:

CCI policy positively encourage all employees to participate in community activities?

the workforce have a voice in developing and monitoring CCI policy and implementation?

community involvement get included in management training and employee performance appraisal system?

Is the company a partner in the community – for example:

are objectives for CCI developed with key community partners and stakeholders?

does the company consult regularly to review the impact of its investment and then adjust objectives to reflect ‘customer’ feedback?

does the company invest in sustained relationships to build the capacity and relevant expertise of its community partners?

Does the company measure results by:

setting measurable outcomes for all activities and monitoring progress against each objective?

measuring and evaluating the cost/benefit of CCI activities?

regularly reporting quantitative and qualitative results to employees and community partners?

benchmarking its CCI against best practice in its industry sector and in other companies in the locale?

Increasingly companies will answer positively the questions in this checklist, as CCI management becomes more professional.


These ten trends have profound implications for CCI managers wishing to remain at the cutting edge of developments. These can be summarised into ten questions to answer.

1. Can you marry community objectives of your CCI programme with business needs?

2. Have you added CCI issues to your company’s surveys of employee concerns? Is there a formal, employee volunteering programme?

3. How can the company help in the education and training fields?

4. Is there a strategy to integrate company-backed projects into wider community regeneration activity?

5. Are operating divisions able to articulate the CCI strategy?

6. Is your government affairs manager aware of the CCI expertise you have developed? Are you working together to use this expertise to create ‘platforms for dialogue’ with politicians, civil servants and opinion-formers?

7. Have you reviewed with colleagues in marketing, purchasing, HRD and sales the potential? Are they developing existing programmes or adding new ones which use some of their own resources and meet their own objectives too?

8. Have you defined your key community partners? Have you agreed with them a capacity-building programme?

9. Is there a communications strategy for CCI? Are community partners briefed on what PR you expect from your involvement?

10. Is your company able to answer positively the checklist of questions for effective CCI management listed above?

David Grayson writes from 15 years’ experience of corporate community involvement – on both sides of the table – as an adviser to major multinational companies in the implementation of CCI and as a director of local and national not-for-profit organisations seeking help from business. He has also studied and lectured on corporate community involvement in many countries including the USA, Canada and South Africa as well as various continental European countries. David is managing director of BITC’s Business Strategy Group.

This article is an abridged version of a forty-page BITC Occasional Paper of the same title, sponsored by BT. Full copies of the Paper, which includes over one hundred examples of existing company practice, is available price £6 from Denise Cahill, BITC, 8 Stratton Street, London W1X 5FD. Phone 0171 629 1600

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 20 – February, 1995