6 Things to consider when developing a community impact strategy

Last month, thinkPARALLAX supported The Shine Project Foundation, a San Diego-based nonprofit that partners with local businesses and organizations to provide enrichment activities for children in the community who have special needs. We sponsored and volunteered at their Beach Fun Day, spending a sunny morning at the beach near our office engaging with children and encouraging them to get in the ocean or on a surfboard (you can read about why we love surfing here).

Because we advise our clients on their community impact programs, this event got us thinking about how we can optimize our own programs to make them more valuable.

Why are community impact programs important? Not only do they benefit local communities, but they also provide ROI for corporations. In their 2016 Volunteer Impact Survey, Deloitte found that volunteerism can help build skill sets critical to developing well-rounded leaders, such as communication and accountability. Forbes reports that millennials favor working for companies that give back to the community, so offering volunteer programs can help attract top talent. And according to Fortune, volunteering improves your company’s reputation in the community, facilitates networking, and retains employees. The value is clearly there.

So how do you determine where to give, how to engage your employees, and what programs will make the biggest impact for your business? Here are six things to consider.

1 – Connect it with your business strategy.

Don’t just give to save polar bears because your CEO thinks they’re cute or your kids love them. In order to support the growth of your business, your community impact program should align with your overall strategy. Start by considering your industry or vertical and looking for a relevant cause connected to the work that you do. If you’re targeting specific customers, potential employees, or suppliers, support a cause that resonates with them. Our client International Paper depends heavily on forestry, so they support WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GTFN), an organization is focused on eliminating illegal logging and driving improvements in responsible forest management.

How we did: Because the Shine Beach Fun Day event took place in our local community, it was a great way to get our business in front of potential clients and employees.

2 – Align it with company values.

The key to engaging your employees in your community outreach is to create programs that they are genuinely passionate about, aligned with your core values. Allow your employees to decide which causes to support, and offer incentives for participating. You could even give your employees paid days to volunteer, allowing them to choose from a variety of organizations that are close to their hearts. Our client Southwest Airlines encourages volunteerism with their ‘Tickets for Time’ program, donating roundtrip tickets to nonprofits based on Employee volunteer hours. They also have local Community Giving Boards made up of local employees who decide how Southwest will support charities in localized neighborhoods.

How we did: Our employees are passionate about surfing, the ocean, and the outdoors, so the Shine Beach Fun Day was a perfect fit.

3 – Be clear about the commitment and what you are looking to achieve.

Just like with any project, your community impact programs should have clear goals and objectives from the onset with a tangible way to measure results. Be clear about your commitment internally and work with causes that will support your objectives. Our client Qualcomm set the objective of inspiring more girls and women to have a long-term interest in STEM, so they work with the organization WeTech to provide a free girls-only STEM summer camp, measuring the rate of girls who return each summer.

How we did: Our commitment was straightforward. Our cash sponsorship and volunteer time allowed our team to clearly understand our role in the partnership.

4 – Utilize the skills, services or products your company produces.

If possible, look for opportunities to incorporate your business offerings with your volunteer work, which not only helps get employees involved but also showcases your products or services to potential customers and partners. International Paper recently donated 100k of their corrugated boxes to hurricane relief efforts, while Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach social initiative utilizes the company’s advanced wireless technologies to help underserved communities around the world.

How we did: We designed artwork for the Shine Beach Day t-shirts, showcasing our skills as a design agency.

5 – Strategically think about relationships.

Opposed to just supporting a cause that you personally believe in, use your community impact program as a strategy for networking, forming valuable new connections, and ultimately growing your business. Maybe you want to formalize a certain strategic partnership and you’ve read that the organization’s CEO sits on the board of a nonprofit. Or maybe you’ve been courting a potential new client who champions a specific charitable cause. Leverage your community impact programs to connect with the right people.

How we did: We work with the City of Encinitas so our support of the Shine Beach Fun Day was strategic in that realm. There is also an opportunity that the foundation may grow or partner with larger NGOs in the future, opening up more opportunities.

6 – Look for PR opportunities.

Community impact programs give you a compelling story to tell customers, partners, and the general public. Leverage your social media channels, blog, and media outreach to share what you’re doing. Be sure to capture photos, videos, and additional assets that make the storytelling more interesting. You can also increase exposure for your business by partnering with causes or charities that often get picked up by the media, or that have a large social reach.

How we did: While we did take photos and promote the event on our social channels, in the future we could do a better job amplifying our story to the public.