What’s your Community Service Strategy?

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Start 2011 with an assessment of your firm’s community service program

A couple of weeks ago, I offered the closing remarks at our annual holiday party. My comments were mostly forgettable. However, our business development group stole the show by putting together a video highlighting various company service projects from this past year. Our employee’s generosity in 2010 was inspiring! What’s more, I was proud that our firm provides opportunities for employees to give back in such meaningful ways. The comments and praises shared after the program reinforced this pride. It was apparent our employees and their families valued our company’s focus on community service.

Recently, one of my partners made the comment: “The best thing about our firm is that it is a vehicle to help me give back to the community.” Tim was referring to experiences he’s had serving on boards and committees and participating in discussions on important local issues.  His observation is spot-on; as consultants experienced in public works, or architecture, or park design, or whatever our expertise, we have the ability to make significant local contributions.

During this time of holiday giving, it seems appropriate to consider our corporate record of community service. An honest assessment and a commitment to give more in 2011 can be a solid strategy for business improvement and growth.  Before you mistakenly dismiss these ideas as purely altruistic, consider the following business benefits:

1.)    Employee Retention and Recruitment – Hired a Gen “Y” employee recently? These employees value firms with a mission broader than profit. Indeed, all employees want to belong to a company with a strong community reputation.

2.)    Culture Building – Shared employee experience, whether related to work or community service, is an important building block of a firm’s culture. Why not cancel next year’s annual summer BBQ and instead invite families to a Habitat for Humanity project? You may be surprised by the response.

3.)    Brand Awareness and Name Recognition – Your corporate giving program is one way to inexpensively build your name recognition and brand awareness.  As an example, in 2010 we led several local Make a Difference Day campaigns. This role gave several employees the opportunity to publicly share our company’s core values on the radio, TV, and through local print. This was a huge boon to our local brand awareness.

4.)    Networking – Four hours spent planting trees with a client is worth a year of business lunches. As an added benefit, you both burn calories rather than consume them.

Now, to the naysayer: admittedly community service and corporate giving can get expensive, sap important firm resources, and divert business focus. To mitigate these risks, use your firm’s inherent project management abilities to remain within planned budget and time constraints.  Other suggestions to maximize your giving effectiveness include:

  • Seek Broad Participation — Invite your employees and their families and friends. Invite your clients and their families and friends. In fact, the only negative I heard after our holiday party presentation was from a disgruntled spouse who said, “My husband didn’t share this opportunity with me. I wish you’d reached out more to our family to get us involved.”  Lesson learned. Next year we will send invitations straight to our employee’s homes.


  • Test Partnerships – Community service projects are the ideal setting to test partner and/or sub-consultant relationships. Invite them to participate, and then use their response as a barometer to test your compatibility with that firm or their employees.

  • Stretch employees – Consider inviting an employee to lead a community project who might not have been your first choice. An introvert, who may usually be uncomfortable in a marketing role, may shine if given an opportunity to lead a “roll-up-your-sleeves” type community project.


  • Social Networking – Wondering how to effectively use social networking in your firm? (Yeah, me too.) Facebook and Twitter are ideal ways to promote community projects and to get your feet wet with new technology in a low-risk activity.


  • Client Development — Consider projects or initiatives that support a client’s mission or interest.  Alternatively, select activities or projects that showcase your company talents. Either approach will strengthen client relationships or reinforce your firm’s resume.

This year, while evaluating your company’s annual performance, make time to evaluate your community service record as well.  And if it’s not where you’d like it, remember that a new year is just around the corner, filled with opportunities to rally your troops and get out that shovel or recycling bag.  You may be surprised at how giving back may affect both your company’s culture and long-term financial performance.

Derrick Smith is a senior vice president at MacKay & Sposito, Inc. (M&S) (Vancouver, WA). Contact him atdsmith@mackaysposito.com.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Shoes on Wires
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