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Great questions to ask BEFORE choosing a cause or nonprofit to support

Is your company exploring a new or improved community and stakeholder engagement strategy? Below are five questions to ask your team before you select a cause or nonprofit to support…

1. What are the needs and resources in the communities where your business operates? (Getting perspective.)

It is important to first allocate time and resources to understanding the community in which your business operates. Understanding the needs, challenges, resources and assets can guide your company in deciding in which areas to engage and what resources to contribute. 

It is important to define the parameters of your community.  Is it the neighborhood or neighborhoods surrounding your business’ operations?  Is it where your employees are living and working or where they are from? Is it where your current or target customers are located or the communities from which you source your materials and resources?  Or is it a combination of all or any of these?      

Once you’ve defined your community, you can take stock of any needs and available resources. There may be relevant data and reports from local and national government agencies (i.e., General Statistics Office), aid agencies, research institutes, nonprofits, etc.  You might also want to conduct surveys or reach out to community leaders representing government, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and/or academia, as well as company stakeholders – employees, consumers, and business partners. When talking with community representatives, engage in an open, two-way conversation. Find out about their goals for the future, recent achievements, and what they feel is needed to address outstanding community needs.  

In addition to learning about different causes in which you might want to engage, you will also find out which organizations are currently engaged – or would like to engage - in that cause and if they are looking for partners. (A collaborative partnership approach may be an effective way to address community challenges). This step also helps to uncover any gaps or unmet needs in the community.  


2. What resources can my company offer? (Think outside the cash box.)

There are many ways a company can address community needs or enhance local capacity.  Following are some examples: 

Cash: Grants, sponsorships, matching gifts, and impact investing are among the most common forms of financial contributions companies can offer to support a local cause.

Employee Time: From hands-on volunteering (e.g. employees volunteering time at a local soup-kitchen) to skills-based volunteering (e.g., joining a nonprofit board of directors), there are a variety of ways to implement a corporate employee volunteer program.  

Social Capital: Companies and employees have valuable networks that can prove beneficial to a local cause. Offering to make an introduction or provide contacts for your vendors, service suppliers, local authorities, or peers can make a difference

Products and Services: Many companies allocate products or services for one or more local cause, to be offered free/in-kind or at a discount. Others are engaged in cause marketing, aligning the marketing for one or more product or service with a cause.  

Facilities & Equipment: Companies often have equipment and meeting, event, or work space they can consider contributing towards a local cause. If your company is planning to donate items no longer needed, just make sure they are still in good condition.

Supply Chain Management: By investing in their supply chain, companies can enhance supplier capabilities and efficiency in areas such as energy and water usage, and assist in minimizing or eliminating waste. 

Workforce Development: Having a well-trained and supported workforce is important to the longevity of a company and has positive impacts on communities. Companies could invest in educational development in their communities, such as vocational training programs.   


3. How should my company involve our stakeholders? (Communication is key.)

A company can only gain and retain trust from its stakeholders when it strives to understand their views and perspectives so everyone involved is working from a common understanding of the issue. A company’s stakeholders typically include: investors, employees, customers, business partners, government, the media, unions, business chambers, and community members. How to involve your stakeholders into the company’s community and stakeholder engagement efforts will depend on their needs and expectations of your business as well as what your company hopes to achieve in the process. But, in general, effective communication and feedback mechanisms are critical.

The goal is to ensure that stakeholders recognize your community engagement efforts as an appropriate use of corporate resources.  Do your efforts align with their perspectives?  If you ask for their perspective, do your programs reflect their input and contributions? Given that there are an increasing number of well-informed stakeholders raising issues that can impact a company’s bottom line, early and effective engagement with stakeholders is indeed an opportunity; meanwhile, not doing so could put your company at risk.  


4. What does your company hope to achieve?  (Be honest.)

Do you aspire to make a positive impact on your community, on your company, or both?  If you hope to achieve your goal(s) and if you wish to work in partnership with others, you must know the answer to this question and share it openly with your partners. 

The key driver for a company’s community engagement program should not be a generic standard of responsibility nor a penance for negative consequences of the business. Instead, there must be a specific, measurable, positive impact – human, environmental and/or societal. Companies may find guidance and inspiration from the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The goals include: reducing poverty, inequality, and hunger; improving education, health, environment, and infrastructure; promoting gender equality, responsible construction, sustainable communities, and more.  


Community and stakeholder engagement also presents an opportunity to positively impact your company and meet strategic objectives. Some examples include: talent development, staff recruitment and retention, team-building, public relations, network-building, market penetration, product development, cost savings, and innovation. While it is important for a company to benefit from its community engagement activities, it is important that such internal benefits to not overshadow or replace the shared objectives to address a specific need in the community.      

Whatever your goals may be, programs and partnerships that work feature clearly identified outcomes and clear value propositions for all partners. If desired outcomes are unclear, it will be difficult to measure your progress and likely to confuse your constituents - partners, customers, and community members, which could compromise those relationships.


5. How committed is your company?  (Sustainability requires commitment.)

If your company truly cares about making an impact on the community, the sustainability of the solution you invest in becomes an important factor.  However, solutions are only sustainable if partners are committed to investing in them over the long-term. It is unquestionable that partnerships take time to develop, and often recommended that new initiatives start small and grow larger over time, as trust is built. Companies must start-out by envisioning the long-term goal and establish and build on partnerships that work towards that goal, over time.  To support long-term partnerships, companies would be wise to establish short-term and medium-term objectives, or milestones, which help to demonstrate progress towards achieving your desired, long-term results.  

By Dana Doan - Founder and Strategic Advisor at LIN Center for Community Development

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