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Establish Culture of Social Responsibility

Originally published
Originally published: 11/6/2020

Being a good corporate citizen impacts your bottom line in a positive way.


As CEOs, you have ultimate authority for earnings, expenses and profits. But you also have responsibility for your employees and the communities in which you do business. Building and maintaining your company’s reputation as a good corporate citizen and as a good place to work contribute significantly to your ability to keep your financial picture looking positive.

It’s a long-term initiative to be a company that does well by doing good, and the investments of time and effort (and sometimes cash, too) aren’t drops in the bucket. So why pursue it? And how?

It Begins With You

Many of you have served on boards of non-profits and trade groups and have lent your expertise to all kinds of organizations with needs. Setting an example of serving your community in this way is a normal and accepted practice for business leaders. But it’s only the first step.

Think about other ways you can set an example for your employees — things they can do, too. Maybe it’s leading a group of employees on a fundraising 5K walk or run. Or organizing food or toy drives to donate to local charities. Small things that aren’t burdensome financially or time-wise on rank-and-file workers with families are good places to start.

Being willing to roll up your sleeves and volunteer or donate right alongside your employees shows you take seriously the obligation successful business owners have to their cities and towns and those less fortunate.

Inspire Others

The renowned business author and speaker Tom Peters has a saying: “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” As you take a more active lead role in demonstrating your company’s commitment to giving back, think about how you can inspire others on your team to not just follow along with you, but to initiate their own social responsibility actions.

Look around at other companies in your field or in your community for inspiration.

Some leaders here in Columbus, Ohio, where our firm is located, that I am personally inspired by are the owners of the largest locally owned salon and spa company, Charles Penzone Inc. The owners, Charles and Debra Penzone, have donated salon and spa services to individuals who are going through cancer treatment, and they have also donated a percentage of sales at various times to a variety of community causes.

Their stylists are the ones on the front lines of these donations, and the way the entire company comes together to contribute to these community causes is admirable.

Another inspiring organization for me is DesignGroup. Second generation leader Bob Vennemeyer and his founding partners decided to do something big for the company’s tenth anniversary. That year, the partners established a donor-advised fund with The Columbus Foundation. The fund lets DesignGroup give cash grants to a variety of community 501(c)(3) charitable organizations as needs arise.

As CEO of my own company, I wanted our firm to give back in both ways — with the talents and skills of our employees, and with cash donations, too. As you can imagine, non-profits have no shortage of need for marketing, design and public relations services.

They need to promote the services they offer to make sure they are reaching the populations they serve. They need to get the word out about their fundraising needs. And they need to communicate frequently with their donors and service recipients with all kinds of print and digital collateral.

With our team’s creative and artistic skills, we provide in-kind services to a number of special causes in our community, collaboratively chosen by the our team, where we feel passionate that our contributions will make a difference. We try to be selective so we can provide a depth of services that will catapult a non-profit to the next level.

In 2007, we opened a donor advised fund at The Columbus Foundation. The GREENCREST Living Hope Foundation does just what the name says — it gives living hope to children and individuals in the community who, due to economic challenges, might not otherwise have the resources to live to their fullest potential.

For me, the most rewarding part of leading these efforts is watching the team take the ball and run with it on their own. Throughout the year, our team comes together to dip into our own pockets to provide much-needed items for non-profits chosen by team members.

Our efforts have included gathering personal care items for those experiencing homelessness, piecing together blankets for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and gathering books and school supplies to stuff the backpacks for central Ohio students.

Promote the Value

As you widen the community giving initiatives, it’s important to talk to your employees about why you are leading the company to do these things. You don’t want your employees to feel like it’s a chore, or just a pet project of yours.

How you communicate about your corporate social responsibility program can impact how fully it is adopted by your team.

Including the team in choosing causes or organizations to contribute to is the first step. Making sure everyone is directly involved in the projects — whether in frontline contact with individuals receiving services, or on-site at a volunteer opportunity — is next.

The closer your employees can get to meeting or being around the people they have helped, the more inspired they become — it solidifies the effort. And, it is likely to bring them joy, satisfaction and purpose.

And, finally, it’s important to announce information about the impact your company’s efforts had — how much money was raised or exactly the kind of difference you made. Recognizing employees who were key in adopting the cause and leading others to get involved helps reward the kind of social responsibility leadership you are trying to inspire at all levels.

The results announcement also shows that your corporate social responsibility objectives are just as important as your financial objectives — it drives home the “why” — the bigger picture reason you’ve committed time and effort and included the whole firm. That can be a powerful message to send to everyone who works for you.

The more you, as leaders, can promote the importance of corporate social responsibility, the more community needs can be met. And, there is work to be done.


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