With citizens and communities across the U. S. under an unprecedented level of stress as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, corporate America has an opportunity to assist those in need like never before. Not since 9-11 has the country felt such a gut punch, and not since the 1930s has the country seen this level of unemployment and widespread economic hardship.
The pandemic and associated shutdowns have left deep gouges in some corporate and small business sectors – gouges that may take years, if ever, to heal over. At the same time, many companies are holding their own and some are even thriving in this pandemic economy, particularly those that provide high-demand services and products. It’s incumbent on every company – especially those on sound footing in this time of stress – to re-double their efforts to be a good neighbor and corporate citizen in those communities in which they are located and serve.
This is what we refer to as corporate social responsibility or CSR, which can also include corporate philanthropy. CSR is a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable to itself, its shareholders, and the public. And these programs have the greatest impact when they are heartfelt and persistent.
Most all of us have faced high-stress moments on a personal level at some point in our lives, such as the death of a loved one, a major illness, the loss of a job, or loss of a home to fire or flood. On these occasions, the people you remember most in the months and years that follow are those who knocked on your door, and said, “I want to help,” and did. These compassionate, good-neighbor actions serve to build a level of trust that is long-lasting.
Now is the time for companies to do the same. Trust and reputation are major contributors to a company’s business success. A recent study found that 73% of Americans consider a company’s charitable work when making a purchase. These attributes also play a major role in helping a company advance its public policy and government affairs objectives, which too have a positive impact on the business -- if thoughtfully deployed.
So how to go about it?
- Assemble the right cross-company team. Your corporate citizenship efforts should be highly coordinated and include team members from relevant company functions, e.g., CSR, Philanthropy, Government Affairs, Communications, and HR. The team should be large enough to be representative, but small enough to be agile. A team leader should be designated, and each team member should have a clear role and clear deliverables. And don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Impact can only be derived from timely actions, not unexecuted plans.
- Work with partners. Consider partnering with a local or regional non-profit organization to develop and execute on a plan that best serves the community (e.g., a food drive, mortgage and rental assistance, Covid-related blood plasma donations, remote tutoring for at-home classwork, free broadband access and laptops for students in need). This shared ownership with a partner will increase the likelihood for success, and will build important new alliances.
- Involve your employees. Your employees live within the community and can be the company’s most credible ambassadors in your efforts. Meaningful CSR programs can also motivate and inspire your employees, which increases business results, improves morale, and reduces bad attrition. Also reach out to company alumni and retirees and involve them where possible.
- Tell your story effectively to key audiences. Through your efforts, you have the potential to build deeper trust with key decision-makers and the public. Keep federal, state, and local government officials in the loop and engaged; and, keep the public informed in a considerate way. Regularly report on specific progress toward goals, and be forthright about lessons learned.
Ultimately, being a good corporate citizen is not only good for business, it’s the right thing to do.
And how a company performs on CSR, philanthropy, and government affairs amidst the pandemic may very well lay the groundwork for a new and more impactful playbook going forward.
Ed Ingle serves as a senior advisor to Poligage and is a founding member of the Poligage Experts Network. He is President of New Lantern Partners -- a public affairs, CSR, and philanthropy consulting firm. Previously, Ed served as General Manager of Government Affairs for Microsoft, Deputy Assistant to the President at the White House, and as Senior Vice President for a WPP-owned governmental relations firm. He is author of the “Government Relations” chapter for a leading corporate reputation management textbook, soon to be released in its fourth edition.
You can book a private consultation with Ed at Poligage.com to discuss your government affairs, public affairs, CSR, and reputation management needs.