How community involvement is shaping the corporate story

By Robyn Brown

Corporate social responsibility, cause marketing, community relations, sustainability – call it what you like, companies today are waving the banner of social activism. Proctor & Gamble Company recently teamed with to launch a clean water initiative. Carfax partnered with Michigan International Speedway (MIS) and The Conservation Fund to lessen the environmental pollution from stock car racing. That corporate/nonprofit team was recently recognized with a Communitas Award for its CSR efforts.

Suddenly, a company’s goodwill efforts are less about philanthropy and more about hands-on change. Today corporations are expected to have a CSR strategy embedded into their business practice. CEOs rather than marketing teams have become the face of these efforts to the public, building morale with employees, influencing stakeholder opinion and reshaping brands.

Given these trends, most companies are not wasting their CSR efforts for the sole purpose of media hits or to disguise an already negative reputation.

For public relations professionals, a company’s social engagement should be an element in the overall corporate story. Companies that align with social issues and non-profit organizations that resonate with who their company is and what it does can succeed in connecting with their key audiences. They can also create a compelling campaign for change that others can follow.

For those exploring the nascent terrain of CSR, the field can be pretty overwhelming. After all, many people and many non-profits are hurting right now, especially financially. I don’t doubt that most would gladly accept a check as quickly as an in-donation.

So, how do you select your company cause?

  1. Each of us believes in something greater than ourselves. Poll your employees and understand what weighs heavy on their hearts. When you get employees passionate about a cause, you’ve already built a community of advocates.
  2. Provide a service or product that your company already offers to an organization or group that is deserving. This could include a book store donating children’s books to a poorly funded school or a family medical practice offering free flu shots to the elderly.
  3. Determine the purpose of your CSR efforts and create a mission statement about why you care. This mission should align with your company brand and overall mission. Disconnects are quickly detected by the public and leave them skeptical about your motives. Then select a not-for-profit that mirrors those values.
  4. Who are your customers or your greatest stakeholders? Ask yourself how you can more closely align with them and strengthen key relationships by joining a cause they are concerned about or supporting their personal interests.
  5. Select a cause where you can directly measure the social outcomes of your investments in the community. If you donated money, can you check in a year later and see where your support made a change?  Then tell those stories from the viewpoint of the recipients. The whole world loves a success story – and they’ll love hearing it from you.

At Brooks & Associates, we work with our clients to communicate what they are passionate about.

Rent-A-Center, for example, targets its CSR efforts on programs that benefit kids and families, developing partnerships with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Junior Achievement and other related non-profits across the country.

Joint programs most often involve significant donations of Rent-A-Center merchandise. Each year the company donates new couches, tables, TVs, computers and video consoles to 20 Boys & Girls Club teen centers nationwide. The re-modeled ‘RAC Rooms’ give the teens a safe and positive place to hang out and do homework.

For Rent-A-Center, one of the best things about the program is seeing and hearing what a difference the new merchandise makes for the clubs. After an initial donation, individual stores continue to work with their adopted Boys & Girls Club in their area and volunteer whenever possible.

The RAC Room donation events have become a social gathering of Boys & Girls Club and Rent-A-Center staff, area teens and parents, as well as local newspapers and TV stations.

Check out this recent newscast at a Boise, Idaho event.

RAC Room Donation

As a final note, successful CSR programs start with commitment from top management, particularly the CEO, who then communicates and leads support throughout the organization. Rent-A-Center’s community involvement is championed by CEO Mark Speese, an active supporter of Collin County area non-profits including Children’s Medical Center at Legacy and the Collin County Children’s Advocacy Center.