What exactly is corporate citizenship? | Opinions

By Rachel Myers
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

Everywhere we look lately, there seems to be another article or blog post about it and the impact it can have for businesses. This month, we wanted to look more closely at this idea and just what it means to be a good corporate citizen.

The Boston College for Corporate Citizenship (BCCC) recently shared some of its extensive research on this topic. In a presentation titled, “The Value of Corporate Citizenship in a Complex World,” BCCC shared data along with real-world stories from practitioners including Umpqua Bank and Microsoft.

A few key points stand out:

– Companies are giving more attention to corporate citizenship at the highest levels of management than they did just three years ago.

– Corporate citizenship is becoming a global concern. Increasingly, corporations are expected by customers and shareholders to address the sustainability and ethical impact of their businesses, not just in their local communities, but worldwide.

– Companies are realizing that being socially responsible is more than just giving away money to nonprofits. Investors and shareholders alike have increasing expectations of corporations to measure and report what makes them good corporate citizens.

According to Bob Gilbreath’s book, “Marketing with Meaning,” 87 percent of consumers would switch brands based on association with a good cause, and 50 percent of consumers would pay more for products from brands that support causes. The premise of Gilbreath’s book is essentially that when people choose to engage with your business and products in a meaningful way, everybody wins.

As good as that sounds, the question many of us have is: What would this look like for my business?

According to top researchers in this field, one important step is to discover what causes your customers and employees really care about.  While there are lots of creative ways to approach this process, it can be as easy as putting up a whiteboard in your reception area or break room and asking people to share which organizations they support.

Facebook is another great place to ask people what they care about, and why. Some local companies have created “lunch and learn” sessions where employees can invite the nonprofit organizations they support to share a 20-minute overview of their work during the lunch hour.

After gathering feedback from your network, it is time to tap into your creativity as you decide how to best support a local cause. Whether it is dedicating a percent of sales from a specific day, holding a food drive,  matching employees’ charitable gifts or organizing a volunteer day, there are dozens of ways to support the wonderful work happening in our community.

Research shows that your customers will enjoy an opportunity to help you give back—especially if you make it fun and easy.

Paula Berg, resource development manager at Whatcom Community College, who has worked with dozens of local companies, says:  “I am honored to work in such a philanthropic community, and I’m grateful for the many businesses who contribute to Whatcom Community College’s success. These businesses provide volunteers who help ensure our programs remain innovative and current, as well as funding to support scholarships and important college programs. Socially responsible companies who engage with their local nonprofit sector help make this the healthy and thriving community that we can all be proud of. “

If you would like to learn more about the local nonprofit community and explore potential partner organizations, you can visit both the Whatcom Council of Nonprofits’ website at www.whatcomcouncilofnonprofits.org, and the Whatcom Community Foundation’s website at www.whatcomcf.org.

Rachel Myers is the development and programs manager at the Whatcom Community Foundation. This piece is part of a recurring series of columns from the Whatcom Council of Nonprofits regularly featured in The Bellingham Business Journal.

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