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How To Develop Your Company’s Community Involvement Plan

Engaging and Helping Out

The people who work for your company are their own community, likely spending more time with co-workers than friends and family. But there are some sound reasons to extend employee talents outside of the workplace, to benefit the broader community. Besides social good, a company community engagement plan benefits both the business and individuals.

Helping out in the community raises awareness of needs, brings together resources and helps make lives and the place we live better. But community involvement is also an excellent opportunity for businesses to build relationships, increase brand awareness and visibility in the marketplace. 

For individuals, community service establishes business contacts and provides friendship opportunities. Volunteering can also aid in work team bonding, giving a glimpse of a co-worker’s unique qualities outside of work in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Helping promotes learning of new skills for some, or gives a chance to share expertise for others.

However, businesses can’t realistically participate or give to every community program. Having run community-based programs and nonprofits for many years, I learned some effective strategies to decide what projects to engage with and how to motivate employees to participate. 

Why it’s important to plan your program
Without policies in place regarding what and how you want to engage with charities, education and civic programs, a pattern might develop on its own. There is a strong risk of being over-asked for donations, or having requests for involvement that don’t fit your company culture or values.

Organizations decide what is important to them for a community engagement program, and often these values are a good match for the purpose of the company. For example, sporting goods chain Scheels focuses on mind and body in their community programs. They get involved in various school athletic programs and host educational field trips. Scheels employees teach and build awareness about conservation, getting their hands dirty with programs like the Refuge Garden program. They also organize fundraisers for various social services and health related causes. Financial donations are decided on a store-by-store basis, allowing each retail outlet to decide how to best support their community.

Areas of community support generally fall under these eight categories: Animal support and protection; Arts and culture; Community development; Education; Environmental; Health and wellness; Human services; and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Note that donations to any nonprofit, most religious organizations and government supported schools are tax deductible, but most civic organizations and clubs are not (unless they are recognized as a 501c3 or sometimes 501c4) nonprofit by the IRS).

Below are the basic steps to create a plan.

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10 Key Elements of a Community Engagement Plan

  1. Make sure you have internal buy in to develop a community engagement plan, from the top down. 
  2. Create a budget that includes what the company will donate, and any hard costs for volunteer programs. Include employee incentives and recognition for participation.
  3. Gather an internal engagement team- people that are interested and excited to take on this new planning task, and share their enthusiasm with the members of your work community. 
  4. Research and decide on programs and giving opportunities that fit company values. Provide a variety of community service programs and donation options for employeesone size does not fit all. Also consider one or more community service days designed for work groups to participate in activities together, fostering team-building. 
  5. Draft sign-up forms and a method to track volunteer hours, expenses and contributions, and other campaign materials.
  6. Include a marketing plan to reach target audiences to meet community engagement goals. Update company website with a community engagement page.
  7. Engage with community stakeholders and partners to collaborate on programs, events and fundraisers. 
  8. Make sure and bring internal stakeholders along and ask for feedback. Include ways to encourage diverse participation and minimize barriers. Transparency in planning will help build interest and participation in the programs. 
  9. Launch programs.
  10. Track goals and summarize data on participation.

Here are a few other tips to assist with planning.

Be Flexible
While it is good to decide in advance the type of programs and events your company wants to support, be open to new ideas. Ask employee input early on, and before reviewing annual plans. People have diverse interests, and this may help keep a pulse on area needs and expand community connections.

Check with the town, city or county board in your area to see what initiatives they are working on. Usually, these priorities are well-thought out through a public process, and may give you some great ideas.  

As we’ve learned over the past three years, events that impact entire communities can occur at any time. Being flexible to pivot when there is an urgent need is a supportive approach that will elevate your brand.

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Be present in the community
In sales, a face to face meeting is 34% more effective than an email. Personally interacting with a cause while volunteering is similarly impactful. This could involve working as a team to collect materials for donation, doing a trail cleanup outdoors or providing operational support at an event. 

A corporate giving program, where the business and employees donate through work for a cause, is certainly one way to help the community. There is typically some brand exposure, such as a company logo on campaign materials or an annual report. But this should be balanced with going into the community and having a physical presence through volunteerism. 

A mix of volunteer opportunities and donations provide different opportunities for those that want to get directly involved and give of their time and talents, and those that only want to give financially. 

End Notes: Focus on Fun, Good Feelings and Thankfulness
When we ask employees to volunteer, it may be for a good cause and there may be incentives, but we are still asking them to work. Make sure the experience is as pleasant as possible, by design. This means things like providing excellent volunteer training, making each member feel welcome, regularly communicating about program plans and making sure they have all the supplies and resources they need, including snacks! 

Gratitude is a strong emotion. From noticing and thanking participants for small accomplishments along the way, to a recognition lunch or small gift at the conclusion of a campaign, kudos can improve a person’s perception tremendously.

Employee incentives for participation might include early release from work to volunteer (getting paid for the remainder of the day), or allocating dedicated time off to volunteer, and encouraging employees to use the time. 

Don’t forget thank you notes for financial donations. Regular communication with donors can go out by email, but significant donations should be recognized with a personal, mailed note and a phone call.

Share success stories from programs, and make sure volunteers know they made a difference!

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