Corporate community investment is a dynamic journey, requiring ongoing tactical planning, evaluation, and adjustment. This is especially relevant at a time when 75% of Americans insist companies be active in positively impacting society according to Points of Light Foundation. As a corporate social impact and community investment professional, I am constantly challenged to adjust to the ever-changing and increasingly complex landscape of this field.
Today more than ever, community investment work demands flexible and adaptive approaches. We need to regularly assess our strategies, aligning them with the shifting community needs and expectations of stakeholders, as well as emerging trends. Amid this continuous transformation, certain strategies and methodologies remain steadfast to contribute to increased community and societal impact.
Here are five approaches my team and I use, no matter the social issue, to help companies reach their community investment goals while maximizing assets and advancing their efforts:
1) Be a Partner, Not Just a Funder
Effective collaboration is essential for long-term success and creating sustainable change.
Through your company, you bring a unique set of resources to community investment work. By leveraging influence, assets, and networks, you can amplify the voices of nonprofits and the communities they serve, support policy changes, and drive collective action to address social, economic, and environmental challenges. This can take the form of financial support, skills-based volunteering, or access to technology, among others. It is important to implement a multifaceted, integrated approach to activate your nonprofit partners’ expertise in their specific social impact issue area and build a relationship centered around collective impact. This can help your company better understand and engage in the issues these organizations are addressing.
2) Learn From Those Closest to the Issues
Learning from community members with lived experience throughout your decision-making processes will help to ensure authentic perspectives are incorporated into strategy, program development, and communications efforts. This might include getting on the phone with direct-service nonprofits, doing on-site visits, hosting informal focus groups, or inviting a small group of local residents to discuss their goals within the community. Identifying human-centered stories of impact will go a long way to helping others appreciate, understand, and be inspired by the realities faced by people living in our communities.
3) Activate Employee Expertise
Amplify the capabilities of local nonprofits to deliver their vital services by providing skills-based volunteering and educational opportunities for your employees. Think broadly about the expertise you can provide, including marketing, accounting, legal, project management, technology, and many, many other disciplines. By doing so, a culture of community and mutual support can be fostered, while simultaneously unlocking the multi-faceted and complete potential of your workforce.
4) Lead with Transparency
Establishing credibility and trust with your nonprofit partners requires an increased level of transparency about your company’s business strategy, core values, practices, and expertise. Understanding who you are will help your partners create value for your organization and the community. Keep your partners and stakeholders informed about the ways you are adapting and addressing pressing societal concerns that affect them and your business. Prioritizing transparency fosters a collaborative environment, sparks innovation, attracts talent, and resonates positively with consumers.
5) Focus on Human Outcomes versus Outputs
Pivot the focus of your community investments toward delivering more social outcomes and away from just measuring outputs, such as dollars granted, programs created, or hours served. This approach necessitates a deeper understanding of community needs and an exploration of the specific ways in which your investments can catalyze positive change. It involves ongoing monitoring and evaluation, enabling a more nuanced understanding of the actual, lasting influence of your investments. Fostering more meaningful and sustainable outcomes will lead to tangible, lasting results that truly matter to the people and communities impacted.