This week I met with one of my peers from a global company based in the Netherlands. She’s been running a community involvement program for the past 5 years and wanted to gain some insights from me as to how we run the Fair Chance Foundation. I was flattered that she’d reached out to me and also thrilled to be able to share knowledge and where possible best practice. Especially since our Foundation has only been around for a year, having launched in September 2010. We parted having shared many stories, some frustrations and numerous highs and lows. In view of this meeting, I’d like to share with you some of my views on how profitable organisations can remain profitable, whilst helping charitable third parties to greater new heights.
During the past year, it has become more and more clear to me that Community Investment and Involvement (CI&I) cannot be seen as something that is separate from the company strategy. Any business strategy includes brand, people and clients and CI&I is no different. What the past year has also taught me is that non-profit activities which businesses invest their time and resources in, are allowed to be ‘profitable’ in the perception of the business, whilst still benefiting the non-profit third parties. When a smart CI&I strategy is defined it will be beneficial for all parties!
Let me explain my thought process and let me use the Fair Chance Foundation in the Netherlands as my example. Fair Chance Foundation is financed by Deloitte and focuses on improving education of underprivileged children (age 6 – 18), predominantly in the Netherlands. We partner with well-known charitable third parties and invest resources (money), time (hours of our consultants) and expertise (knowledge of our employees) to ensure that we have the most impact. We don’t want to ‘window dress’ and buy a clear conscience. We want to really be involved with projects at grass roots level, with our own people.
What I see happening is the following. More and more young talents want to work for companies that invest in the community and students, are now looking at Deloitte as an employer of choice. Clients that hear about our foundation are suitably impressed. A client CEO said, that consultants who are involved in the community, are better at what they do, since they really understand the drivers and limitations of the economy. And, better client relationships, lead to better business and improved brand perception.
But, I’m driven by new ideas and what we’re not doing….so my thought process goes even further than the above.
WIN 1 – Training & development: By working far closer with HR, training and talent, exciting training and development programs can be developed that speak to the learning needs of our talents and professionals, while they are giving something back to the community. So, where CI&I is often seen as a cost, we start turning it around as a long term learning benefit for our talents and professionals.
WIN 2 – Improving client relationships: My next trick is that we include our clients. Not all of our clients run foundations or do they have the time or resources to get suitably involved in the community. However, they would like to become involved. By opening up the doors to our company CI&I program, we can send our own talents and professionals on a community involvement learning journey along with their clients so that they can use the time, not only to learn, but also to forge relationships with their clients. This blows the idea out of the water that CI&I is a waste of time and money. Since when was client face-time a waste of time and money?
WIN 3 – Creating brand ambassadors: I’m often amused to hear how many of my colleagues tell me that they get involved in the community with the idea that they have a lot to teach, however, they come away having learnt so much more. These colleagues are positive, motivated and excited and brilliant brand ambassadors for any company.
WIN 4 – Improving the economy by helping NGOs: Charitable third parties are helped with knowledge and expertise that they may otherwise not have been able to afford. In the case of Fair Chance Foundation, we’ve developed financial literacy programs that we implement in schools by training-the-trainer (the teacher) or by giving lessons in interview skills training, entrepreneurship, etc. Topics that are close to our core business and therefore, easier to teach. My view is that the more we invest in education, the more of a virtuous circle that we create. If more children stay in school longer and get a better education, they will not knock on the doors of social welfare (where available) or be dependent on their families. Instead, they will have enough entrepreneurial skills to start their own businesses or the right education to find work. And when more people work, the economy becomes better, which is automatically better for business.
So Community Investment and Involvement (CI&I) is positive for the brand, talent and leadership development and for improving client relationships. Don’t get involved if you want to make a fast buck. But if you’re in it for the long run, the spin-offs are extremely ‘profitable’ for your business but even more so for the NGOs that you help.
I’m getting off my soap-box now. Food for thought…….. I certainly hope so. I look forward to hearing your opinions on this subject!