Every company can benefit from getting involved in the community; entrepreneurs and professionals may benefit the most. Meeting regularly with a group of people who share your commitment to a cause is one of the surest ways to build real relationships and demonstrate your personal value. Working together, you're doing something that helps others, improves your community or supports a cause.
In a recent panel discussion on the topic, Stephen Nostrand, CEO of Colliers International South Florida, talked about his company's requirement that all employees involve themselves in the community. "We divide up our decisions into heads and hearts," he said. In this way, his company is involved both in organizations that are directly related to their business goals or those that have personal, emotional importance to the employees.
Relationships built from this kind of shared commitment frequently develop into business connections who want to help you because they like you. They often become strong, consistent referral sources. Sometimes, they even become clients.
This is an area where the benefits are many, the financial costs can be controlled and (if done right) the effort doesn't feel like work at all. It's also an area where the time and money you spend may spin out of control. So be strategic.
How do you select an organization to join?
It's important to find a group with a mission that you really support. By doing that, you'll find it's easier to commit the time and energy it takes to get the most out of the group. At the same time, you should think about how the group can contribute to your business goals. Who is on the board? Who are their customers? Does the organization host events that will help you grow your business?
Consider these ideas:
- If one of your strategies is to build brand awareness, supporting organizations that your target market cares about is an excellent start;
- If you're in an industry where recruitment is tough because kids aren't studying your field, supporting educational organizations might have a direct benefit;
- If you manufacture products or provide services in a particular industry, supporting related professional organizations could be a way to go.
Who should be involved?
For organizations with very high profiles, you definitely want to send your highest-level people. But everyone can play a role. Think about team-building with Habitat for Humanity or participating in the Corporate Run. If your business is global, consider getting involved in a national or international organization that relates to your business.
For example, Kaufman Rossin Fund Services Director Christine Egan is very involved in 100 Women in Hedge Funds, a global organization of thousands of women dedicated to making a difference in their industry and their communities through education and philanthropy. Through her involvement, Chris got to know a like-minded woman from an investment advisory firm who offered her an exceptional opportunity to be prominent at an exclusive conference.
Money or time?
Serving on a board generally comes with a price tag. But requests for money come from everywhere, particularly once you start giving. Set up criteria. Many companies, including mine, won't give sponsorship dollars unless someone from their organization is personally involved. That way, both the organization and your company get more benefit.
Take a strategic approach.
What organizations are your target audiences involved with or interested in? Is there someone on your team who is passionate about the cause? Do a little research and identify your options. Reach out and see what each organization needs — volunteers, money, products or services? How much time is required? Is there a financial commitment? It's a good idea to attend at least one meeting or event as a guest before committing. Here's a chart to help you organize your thinking based on your business goals.
Of course, as my partner Steve Demar has told me many times, community involvement doesn't work if that's your only agenda. Community involvement is not just a marketing strategy, and it won't work if you treat it that way. When I talk to our company's professionals about getting involved, I don't ask them to tell me which prospects they want to meet and what boards those people are on. I ask them what they care about — education, the environment, the arts, the homeless. Doing something you care about is the important part. The rest happens naturally.
Feel the boost!
One of the biggest intangible benefits of involving your company in the community is the boost to your corporate culture. Your employees will truly love it if you support something they care about, whether it's medical research they have a family stake in or a park resource center they are helping to build in their neighborhood. Following your passion and helping others to do so delivers multiple benefits to your company.
Janet Kyle Altman is the marketing partner at the accounting firm Kaufman, Rossin & Co.