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Empowering authentic community engagement

William Browning //April 30, 2015//

Empowering authentic community engagement

William Browning //April 30, 2015//

If you’re still debating the importance of community stewardship as a value proposition, the overwhelming research confirms a surprising, additional audience – employees. While generating goodwill and positive solutions, community engagement also is improving employee recruitment, retention and loyalty.  And for businesses asking how to attract and retain the millennial generation, the answer is simple: this social-minded generation is craving a work environment that includes authentic methods for engaging them in community-based causes.

The key words, of course, are authentic and engaging. 

Authenticity is about actually supporting community engagement. If it’s not costing you anything in terms of real-time investment – then it’s likely your community efforts are just artificial. For example, just writing a check for a lunch once a year does not qualify as “authentic,” but personally connecting with a cause does.

Achieving authentic engagement includes two factors:

  1. Your employees determine if the company’s commitment to the community is indeed authentic, in contribution of time and capital.
  2. Engagement is defined by how employees values investing their time and efforts toward community causes.

So how does one go about building a community engagement program, if you are a small or medium-sized business in our Front-Range community? And how does “community engagement” also become about “employee engagement”?

Sponsor Board appointments. This is a win-win for both your employee and your company. First, it allows your employee to experience a leadership position within a nonprofit organization they have affinity towards. Secondly, it provides your employee with additional leadership exposure and experience – further improving your staff’s capabilities. Sponsoring board appointments means designing a financial or gift-in kind match when an employee is accepted to a board. Promote the appointment internally and even externally if possible, and showcase the commitment of your company by supporting the employee’s time for events, retreats and board meetings. The best advice for helping employees identify board positions is to first identify their passion and the technical skills. Many nonprofit organizations have advisory boards which are great starting points for less experienced employees.

Employee Selection. A fundamental rule of community engagement is that the passion for the cause matters. It’s not building passion to script mandatory community investment campaigns where the organization is scripted. Millennials tend to support causes, not organizations, and are incredibly adept in identifying causes which they want to support. Once the passion or cause is designed, work with employees to understand how you can support their engagement. This may be allowing them time off once a week for a few hours to read to students, attend a meeting, feed the homeless or build a house.

Let them Select Team Events. If you are looking for a way to engage the full team and have integrity about conducting a fully day of engagement, let the employees identify the causes.  To do so, you might want to conduct an internal review and encourage the employees to vote on an external cause. This process allows wider engagement and also increases the level of support, as employees will feel they have been engaged and valued.

Don’t waste a crisis. Disasters, such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake, can be highly meaningful to employees – especially employees who are indirectly impacted with loss. Building internal empathy and support to rally employees across an organization can build tremendous and long lasting bonds. However, make sure that the work is productive in nature. Far too often, people will show up with goods and materials that are simply not appropriate. It is far more fulfilling to produce a relevant and emotional return for people in need, and there are ways to balance the motivation with constructive ways to engage. I always ask two questions before reacting:  1) who is the expert on the ground? And, 2) what are they telling us they need? This process builds enormous pride and bonding within an organization – while giving back exactly what’s needed.

Model it. Finally, the biggest priority is to model engagement. As a leader for a company, modeling community service and engagement is critical. This doesn’t mean leaders should make a big deal of their contributions, but it should be known that the value is shared and demonstrated by the leadership team. Nothing makes community engagement ring hollow than leadership teams just using the community engagement as an overt business strategy.

More than ever, businesses are helping solve problems in our Front Range communities.  And the results and support are benefiting higher causes, with an added bonus of helping engage employees who realize their employers are committed to a bigger mission.  These community connections are a win-win for all.