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17 Jun. 2020 | Comments (0)

2020 is if halfway over. Little did we know how different the world would be when we entered the new year. A global pandemic and the resulting economic crisis. The stress on this already stressed world continues to be unfathomable. Millions have been infected and hundreds of thousands have died.  Unemployment and underemployment are rampant. Basic needs unattainable for many. The disparities and inequities have been magnified. The world has reached a boiling point with resulting tragedy.

The above is a global view and one I often espouse, but as Tip O’Neill once said, “all politics is local.” The same can be said about benevolence. While we in corporate citizenship have global and national strategies for our companies, it is how those strategies manifest themselves in local communities that creates positive impact.

Companies are members of local communities where they operate, part of the ecosystem. This is where I have a problem with the term “giving back” as I prefer “giving to,” and supporting, our fellow members of the community, just as how we want them to support us. It’s reciprocal. To do it right, we in corporate citizenship need to have one foot in the company and one foot in the community.

Community relations representatives have long practiced this. This is how I was brought up in this field some 30 plus years ago. Today we often talk about the authenticity of “bringing our whole selves to work”; the concept also applies more broadly in bringing our whole company to the community. Beyond selling goods and services, procurement, hiring, paying taxes, etc., we take our core competencies, and our overarching corporate citizenship strategies, to the community through cash, in-kind and product donations along with expertise with much of it delivered through our amazing employee volunteers.

How do we activate locally to achieve shared goals of communities and the company? Be present. I had a boss one time ask me why one of my team members never seemed to be in the office when she needed her and was concerned. I replied, “she is the head of our headquarters’ local community relations group and if she sat in her office all day, she would not be doing her job!”

While it can be challenging to know where to begin or what to do, taking one step at a time both inside the company and in the community can begin a journey of discovery and learning.

There are some steps to constructively building relationships on behalf of our company with the local community. Participate in meetings and conversations led by people in the community. And make sure that you are considering all of the community, not just the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce. With anyone:

  • Listen
  • Acknowledge
  • Express your values
  • Build trust
  • Discuss differences and expectations
  • Ask “Where and how can we work together?”
  • Pay attention to and nurture relationships
  • Realize when you have mis-stepped with a community partner
  • Develop allies

The above is a long-term proposition.  You cannot have true community relations when you make a one-off donation and then seek support in time of crisis.  You need to know the real issues, have authentic relationships, and be credible so when there is an emergency, you can act versus going on a fact-finding journey.  According to our Corporate Citizenship Matters’ piece Disruption Strikes. You’re in Charge. Now What? “While the value of corporate giving for natural disaster victims is generally assumed but rarely proven, our analysis also reveals that it does more good than harm, but primarily when the contributing companies already have their feet on the ground.”

The resulting civil unrest as the result of the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery amongst others has made it evidently clear which companies have been engaged and those who have not. And interestingly, we have seen this with communities too. Those who have had the hard conversations and have built the relationships over the years tended to have peaceful demonstrations with little escalation.

We have much work to do and we can’t do it alone. Businesses are an important part of the community and to create sustained positive change takes everyone working together. One foot in the company and one foot in the community will serve both well. But we cannot step in and out as needed.  We must make sure that our footing is permanently well-grounded in each.

  • About the Author:Jeff Hoffman

    Jeff Hoffman

    Jeff Hoffman is an accomplished corporate executive who has served on the global stage. Through board and commission leadership roles, he has a distinguished history working with business, non-profit,…

    Full Bio | More from Jeff Hoffman


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