Personally I have never been one to run away from volunteering. When I was young my church often helped with the less fortunate in the community. When I was in the navy I took part in the Big Brother program. After the navy I was involved in Amnesty International and helped out with activities at a retirement home. When I lived in Vietnam over the years I helped raise money for a home for severely retarded children and for two blind schools. And I am all for corporate volunteerism.
But how would my company getting involved with a cause or charity be a good use of our time and resources?
Part of your company’s image to the outside world is viewed by the same way others view you personally. What kind of citizen are you? What kind of citizen is your company? Surely it is enough to provide a good product or service at an acceptable price? Of course it is. Can you have a good image in the community and not get involved with any charity work? Of course you can. Do you need to get involved in the community in order to show the world you are an organization run by decent people. No, you don’t.
So why roll up your sleeves at all?
Let me give you a few reasons.
First, when your company becomes involved in your community, especially in a charitable endeavor that is close to local interests, people will view your company from a whole different perspective. More people will be drawn closer to you and see your company as a “friend” to the community. If your whole company is involved this goes a long, long way in your own internal team building. Your employees rightly feel part of something bigger, of something worthwhile. An example of this is that I always marvel at how the ladies in my office here in Bangkok happily give to Buddhist charities almost every time one of our staff has a community project or cause she is helping out with. Even when the cause is not from anyone in our office but from another company in our building they also happily jump on the “do good” bandwagon. I have seen how the camaraderie is in the air in my office when it comes to giving.
But a word of caution:
Though you can easily see the benefits to your company that putting your best charitable foot forward, don’t ever do this for the publicity you expect it to garner for your company!
To be clear I don’t believe that you will necessarily face an explosion of bad press if you are pushing company charitable work in order to gain publicity. What you do risk is your position in the underlying public opinion. People can generally see when others are not sincere. If you approach lending a communal hand this way then you should expect the community to see right through it and discount the efforts. This could be quite counter productive for your company’s image. The message you send should always be about the cause and not about your company. If you place the cause secondary I assure you that people will see your company as heartless. No one will really respect your efforts. Of course you will get some points for the good that is done with your time and money but you will lose points on the social trust side of your image. Rather than being seen as people who “do well by doing good” you would risk as being seen as a company that would stop at nothing to be noticed – as a “user”, so to speak. Someone who takes advantage of the less fortunate.
How do you avoid this?
There’s no better way of helping out for the right reasons than by letting your staff chose the cause or charity that your company supports. This way they will have ownership of the cause and your people will naturally show that they are helping out because they are compassionate human beings and not because it is company policy. Secondly, if you do promote your company logo or brand when you are helping I would counsel that you make certain not to usurp the spotlight from cause you are supporting. Let your company be a bit in the background. Be humble with your charity. And thirdly, most importantly, as a manager roll up your sleeves and get involved yourself on a personal level. You can shouw your leadership by being a good follower here. And remember to give with a cheerful heart.
This all reminds me of the last words we had from the Beatles:
“The love you make is equal to the love you take…”
Gary Dale Cearley is the managing director of Advanced International Networks Ltd and is also a columnist and writer. Promotion Points is a monthly column in the magazine Management Systems Asia, where Gary Dale is a regular contributor. You can follow Gary Dale on Twitter by clicking here.