Community involvement: six steps to success

August 01, 2004

Briefing offers a guide to best practice in CCI management.

In place of traditional corporate philanthropy, managers are now practising the more rigorous discipline of corporate community involvement (CCI): the planning and implementing of contributions and activities that build a mutually advantageous relationship between business and society.

1. Strategy: creating mutual advantage

Companies have always gained from their involvement in the community, whether through a more motivated workforce or through better relations with important decision-makers.

However a traditional approach to corporate philanthropy tends to see business benefits as merely incidental – a set of positive side effects, but not central to the exercise of philanthropic giving. A best practice approach to investing in the community should go beyond this. By creating a relationship from which the company makes tangible gains, a community investment programme can embed a culture of making a difference deep into the organisation.

The relationship from which the company gains most is the one from which the community will gain most as well. To create real mutual advantage with the wider community, start with a thorough look at what the business itself stands to gain:

  • examine the business’ Human Resources needs. Is staff turnover high, or do issues of motivation and commitment hold back productivity?
  • what are the organisation’s skills development needs?
  • do reputation and relations with key stakeholder groups hold any particular challenges or opportunities for the company?
  • a community involvement programme well integrated into business strategy has been shown to have real impacts on these bottom-line issues.

2. Leadership

A successful community programme is one which can draw on commitment and enthusiasm within the company. Strong senior level leadership is vital to rally support and raise profile. Wherever possible, community involvement should be explicitly tied in to a company’s statement of values and corporate purpose:

  • a senior executive should champion community policies internally and externally
  • the board should discuss corporate community involvement annually, and sign off any changes in strategic direction.

3. Choose partners and issues

Choose one or more key themes, closely aligned to the core business, and structure your activities and contributions around them. A thematic focus can make the most of scarce resources, and can powerfully reinforce brand values. A pharmaceutical company, for instance, can position itself as a leader in health education; an IT company as a pioneer in lifelong learning.

Many companies have moved towards convergence between their community involvement and their core area of business, and have combined cash donations with in-kind gifts and employee volunteering. A combined approach – bringing together all resources of a company in support of a well-defined community programme – can make a greater social impact than cash alone.

While gifts of cash can be positive and appropriate, a company can do much more by asking what its unique contribution can be. IT companies tackling the ‘digital divide’, transport providers contributing to road safety, and construction firms dealing with homelessness all make good use of their core skills and resources – helping the community by doing what they do best.

Develop partnerships with NGOs, the public sector and other stakeholder groups; and aim for maximum leverage by attracting funding from a range of other sources. Consider the full range of resources at the company’s disposal, including:

  • volunteering using mainstream job skills
  • donations of products and services
  • use of facilities (eg meeting rooms).

4. Managing for high performance

Like any business function, community investment should be managed for high productivity: getting the best possible results for the resources put in. Managers should define two sets of outcomes – for the business and for the community – and set challenging targets for each.

There is a temptation to rate the success of a community project by the amount of funds raised, equipment given away or volunteer hours carried out. However the best managed programmes will explicitly focus on managing for long-term social impact, rating their success by the kind of criteria which relate to real improvement and well-being in the community – for example:

  • encourage schooling beyond 16
  • cut annual recorded crime in a particular district by 10% over 5 years
  • reduce the number of infections of HIV/AIDS.

Concentrating on social impacts can lead to more creative ways of using a company’s resources to make a difference: such as a mobile phone company adapting its technology to monitor those with a medical condition, or a bank contributing to financial education. Aim to be known for what you accomplish, not what you give.

5. Measurement

Tracking the resources that go in and measuring business benefits and social outcomes allows managers to make informed decisions – to plan effectively, review performance and improve processes.

Management tools such as the London Benchmarking Group model help companies with this task. CCI professionals have found that in the process they are equipped with sufficient data and analysis to make a more persuasive business case to senior management for their share resources.

Tracking the business benefits can be challenging but companies have developed sophisticated means of doing so. By working closely with Human Resources the effects of employee volunteering can be systematically quantified. Self-assessment techniques focus on competencies such as team work, planning and confidence, and give a before-and-after measure of employee development:


6. Communications

If the goal of a better motivated workforce, proud to be associated with the company is to be achieved, getting the message across is vital. Be sure to cover why the company is active in the community, what achieved in the last year and how staff are getting involved. Give prominence to the views of senior leadership.

Make sure the appropriate information reaches all stakeholder groups, including customers, governments, NGOs and local communities themselves:

  • use a diverse range of tools for the job, including press releases, events, internal publications and social reporting
  • companies’ CSR communications are met with scepticism in some quarters. Communicate in an open, transparent, and fact-heavy way.

The days when meeting your obligation to society meant writing an annual cheque to good causes are now long gone. Getting the message across to stakeholder groups is a final step to building trust, and to being recognised as a valued and welcomed asset in the community where a company operates and on which it depends.

Written and researched by Nick Jones