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Making the case for investing in corporate citizenship

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As we head into an increasingly distressed economy, corporate citizenship practitioners are challenged more than ever to maintain investment in citizenship. The Center’s 2008 Profile of the Practice survey of more than 400 corporate practitioners offers insight into how to best support and illustrate the value of corporate citizenship to a company.

Less than a year before the financial crisis struck this fall, more than half of the respondents to our survey indicated their companies plan to invest more in communications, measurement and review mechanisms, external reporting, staff, and training to manage corporate citizenship. To ensure these planned investments stay on track, they must remain a top priority of senior management. Our experience with leading corporate citizens indicates some best practices that all practitioners should consider when facing potential budget cuts:

  1. Emphasize the business case
  2. Build internal knowledge and support among coworkers
  3. Benchmark your company against your peers

1. Emphasize the business case

In these days of economic uncertainty, practitioners may have to change their tune and focus more than ever on the “business case” – cost savings, efficiencies, reputation bolstering, and risk-mitigation effects – for corporate citizenship programs.

Lynnette McIntire, reputation manager at UPS, explained that “everything we do is tied to the business.” Community giving, for example, while improving brand recognition also supports the company’s belief that “stronger communities lead to a stronger business,” said McIntire. Brand loyalty grows in customers familiar with the work of UPS in their community. Fuel-savings objectives reduce the cost of operations. Community volunteering develops employee teamwork and leadership skills. Diversity objectives help the company attract top candidates and better reflect the makeup of the communities it serves.

Once corporate citizenship becomes an integral part of business strategy and is considered a catalyst for growth and innovation, the need for investment will be clear. This is true for large or small companies.

At the Tennant Company, senior leadership has established a new corporate strategy, to move from a company focused on cleaning floors to an “environmental cleaning solutions provider” that ensures its products are environmentally sound while helping to improve customers’ environment. In this case, citizenship is now driving corporate strategy.

2. Build internal knowledge and support

You are not in this alone. Chances are many employees in your company are passionate about citizenship issues. Communicating across your company’s departments about its potential to address social and environmental challenges will generate more support for your initiatives.

Our survey indicates that companies rate employees as the stakeholder group with the most influence on its citizenship agenda.  However, the survey also shows that only 15 percent of companies believe that all of their employees are “very informed about the social and environmental issues facing their company.”

One way to build support inside your company is to build awareness at the lower and middle ranks. As awareness grows, a level of urgency will eventually reach those top layers of the company. Anna Roosevelt, vice president of global corporate citizenship at the Boeing Company, describes this process as “developing enterprise-wide consciousness.” Leading companies have made this process a top priority. When KPMG brought on Lord Michael Hastings as Global Head of Corporate Citizenship and Diversity, his first objective centered on communication and relationship-building among KPMG’s national partner firms. As a result, he has been enormously successful in educating a worldwide staff and building support and understanding of corporate citizenship throughout the sprawling KPMG network.

3. Benchmark your citizenship investments

How much are you currently devoting to corporate citizenship compared to your competitors and peers?

Do not underestimate the power of competition. Coming to the table with details on what your competitors are doing in corporate citizenship may be all your boss needs to give you the green light to pursue your programs.

Most of the companies responding to our survey (70 percent) have created a dedicated department (e.g. corporate citizenship, CSR, community, sustainability, etc.) with a majority of them employing one to 10 employees full-time. About half of the responding companies also have one to 10 additional staff working on corporate citizenship part-time in various other departments. The seniority level of leadership in corporate citizenship is also relatively high, with about half the departments led by an executive of vice president rank or higher. Most companies with a department are spending between $100,000 and $1 million annually, excluding philanthropic giving.

If you are struggling to find the resources to achieve your citizenship goals, irrespective of your role in the company, establishing a clear business case, developing “enterprise-wide consciousness” to support your efforts, and researching the investments your peers are making, will keep you a step ahead of economic uncertainty.

Download the complete Profile of the Practice 2008

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