8 Best Practices for Strategic Community Investment

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Jun 222010

Ten years ago, corporate community investment was a much different ballgame than it is today.  Companies were judged solely by how much money they gave away.  Today, it’s all about the impact a company is having, and the value being created.

Last week, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) unveiled its new publication, “Strategic Community Investment: A Good Practice Handbook for Companies Doing Business in Emerging Markets,” with a three-day conference in D.C.  The publication is a comprehensive guide to where corporate community investment is heading–away from ad hoc giving, and toward strategic investment–and is well worth a read by practitioners at all levels within an organization.

In its guidebook, IFC defines strategic community investment as:

Voluntary contributions or actions by companies to help communities in their areas of operation address their development priorities, and take advantage of opportunities created by private investment –in ways that are sustainable and support business objectives.

Leading practitioners from around the world had a chance last week to sit down and discuss the publication’s frameworks and findings in the context of the issues they’re facing today–issues like making the business case for CI, effective stakeholder engagement, monitoring and evaluation, and implementation challenges.

What follows is a list of eight best practices that were shared by IFC’s Debra Sequeira, in answer to the question “What are effective companies doing differently?

1.  Have clarity of purpose–Identify key business drivers, prioritize areas where CI can make the biggest contribution to business objectives, and formulate a clear business case.

2.  Build on business competencies and resources–Ask yourself, “what can my company bring to the table besides money?”  Think about the unique contribution that your company can make, the comparative advantages you naturally possess, and support CI programs in areas in which you have the most to offer.

3.  Align internal functions to support CI–Strategic CI cannot be the domain of community relations only.  It needs to involve all internal functions and units in a concerted effort, from human resources to R&D, procurement to security.  This ensures not only business-wide support but business-wide accountability for CI strategy.

4.  Be specific, not generic–Engage in the issues that matter in the local communities in which you do business.  Don’t adhere to a blanket approach that does not take local context into account.  How do you find out what’s unique to the local community? Ask them! Engage local stakeholders to uncover issues, risks and opportunities.

5.  Partner with the community–Effective companies go beyond asking the communities what they want/need (in fact, doing only this typically leads to unsustainable, ad hoc CI).  Instead, engage the local community as a partner.  Assess its assets and strengths, and use these to promote stakeholder-driven action.

6.  Carefully select investment areas–Seek to invest at the intersection of government, community and company interests.  This is where true shared value can be created.

7.  Make good implementation choices–Companies have many choices in implementing their CI strategies.  Should they do it themselves? Set up a foundation? Partner with an NGO?  The choice is strategic in itself, and is based on a number of factors including the time horizon, local context and budget.  The trend today is toward hybrid implementation models that incorporate multi-stakeholder partnerships.  Partners share risks and leverage resources, which leads to better reach and scalability and a greater likelihood of success.

8.  Set goals–Not just goals, but explicit, forward-looking targets–and then be gutsy enough to make them public.

So now the question remains: how do we turn good practices into standard practices?

Three Emerging Trends in Volunteerism

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Jun 212010

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Greater DC Cares’ annual Business & Nonprofit Philanthropy Summit, an event that brings together leaders from the corporate and nonprofit sectors to recognize achievement and impact in the region.  Congratulations to this year’s winners in the nonprofit and business categories!

Michelle Nunn, CEO of Points of Light Institute and the day’s keynote speaker, had the unenviable task of following last year’s keynote (Michelle Obama).  She shared her thoughts on the current state of volunteerism and service in the U.S., recognizing that it’s at a “critical juncture.”

Not coincidentally, I imagine, the Corporation for National & Community Service released its annual Volunteering in America report  earlier in the week, showing the greatest single year increase in the number of people volunteering nationwide since 2003.  The report is intended to help organizations answer a most critical question: how to mobilize more Americans in service to address local needs and problems.

Nunn offered some insights into answering this question, sharing what she considered the three biggest emerging trends in service today.

1.  Connection between service and solutions

Nunn quoted a recent speech by President Obama, in which he said “the need for action always exceeds the limits of government.”  Service, she said, must fill that gap.  And organizations must be held accountable for demonstrating the impact they are having.  From a funder’s perspective, Deloitte’s Emily Rothberg summed it up nicely during an earlier panel on partnerships: “I don’t want to fund a nonprofit,” she said.  “I want to fund a solution.”

2.  Corporate engagement

Nunn cited the increasing sophistication of corporate engagement models that have evolved to include not only employees, but customers as well.  Disney, for example, offered a free ticket to anyone who volunteered for a day of service with a participating organization in its Give a Day, Get a Day campaign.  Starbucks’ I’m In campaign likewise rewarded volunteers with a free cup of coffee.  Interestingly, Nunn said most people didn’t even redeem the reward once they earned it, which points to deeper motives for volunteersim beyond just a free caffeine fix.  “Simply being asked to volunteer was so important,” she said.

3.  The Millenial’s toolkit

Millenials are using an entirely different set of tools and actions (not to mention their overall greater civic-mindedness) to volunteer than any generation before them.  Nunn cited Crop Mob Atlanta, tech-savvy young adults interested in sustainable agriculture who come together as a community to learn, engage, and work, and The Extraordinaries, a startup that has pioneered the idea of microvolunteering–small tasks that can be easily completed via mobile phone.  Millenials want to be involved in change.  They want to lead change.  And they’re organizing in different ways, often outside of traditional institutional structures.

People are the most valuable resource of any organization, and the key question is how to galvanize that human capital to meet the challenges of our time.  Organizations like Greater DC Cares are going a long way toward making Washington, D.C. a model for the rest of the country.