COMING UP FAST: Crash course - Get on with your community

COMING UP FAST: Crash course - Get on with your community - There's been another outbreak of vandalism in your office car park, and the police don't seem interested. Meanwhile, you're growing so fast you need to recruit more people and extend your buildin

by ALEXANDER GARRETT
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There's been another outbreak of vandalism in your office car park, and the police don't seem interested. Meanwhile, you're growing so fast you need to recruit more people and extend your building. Where will you find the skills? And what if you don't get planning permission? It seems like a good idea to get more involved with the local community - but how do you set about it?

PUT YOUR OWN HOUSE IN ORDER. Before reaching out to the community, scrutinise your own policies towards employees, local suppliers and the environment, suggests Business in the Community spokesman Matt Larkin. 'Ask yourself whether you treat employees well and have a diversity policy in place.' Does your business recruit in the neighbourhood and encourage local suppliers?

Do you do your bit for the environment - say, by encouraging cycling, car shares and recycling waste?

LOOK FOR BUSINESS BENEFITS. 'If your contribution to the community has no benefits, it is the first thing to get jettisoned when the going gets tough,' says Mallen Baker, impact-on-society director at BITC. He suggests that companies first identify their own business objectives and where these might overlap with their impact on the community. A water company, for example, might focus on cleaning up local rivers, while an IT business might develop web sites for community groups.

ENGAGEMENT IS BETTER THAN A CHEQUE. 'Don't just hand over conscience money,' says community affairs specialist Chris Crowcroft of Crowcroft & Partners. 'If you work in partnership it's a real opportunity to get into your local network. That doesn't mean you can automatically call in favours when your business runs into a problem, but it does mean that you've got a dialogue going and people will talk to you.'

ENSURE A QUALITY CONTRIBUTION. Don't think that something donated can be second-rate. A classic example is the business that donates antique computers, expecting them to be gratefully received by voluntary bodies or schools. Make sure your contribution is the one that is really needed, whether it be cash, volunteering or a donation in kind.

INVOLVE YOUR STAFF. One of the biggest benefits of being involved with the community is in the development of employees. Participating staff will learn from the experience and feel more fulfilled. If they have no say in the programme, they'll feel far less motivated to take part. 'If nothing else, let your staff nominate their charity of the year next Christmas,' says Crowcroft.

DON'T EXPECT IMMEDIATE PAYBACK. Your contribution to the community might enhance your reputation and even improve local sales. But if you seem to be seeking short-term gains, your motives will be questioned and your participation may be judged to be cynical, argues Baker. He says community involvement can be as much about banking goodwill for the future, especially if you are a business such as an airport or a chemical company that requires a 'licence to operate' from the community.

MAKE FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE. Good works aren't always enough. Protect your interests by nurturing relationships with local decision-makers such as local politicians. David Hands, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, suggests: 'Find out if the local authority has a Business Partnership. Failing that, contact the economic development unit - you may even suggest forming a Business Partnership.'

DO SAY: 'If we demonstrate our social responsibility towards the community, I am confident they will repay us with their trust.'

DON'T SAY: 'I've decided we're going to give a couple of grand to the local kiddies' hospital. If anyone else rings up asking for help tell them to naff off - we've done our bit for the community.'

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