Corporate Citizenship: Basic strategies for any company that is just getting started - Part One - Manifest Communications
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Corporate Citizenship: Basic strategies for any company that is just getting started – Part One

As a social change agency, we often work with Canadian companies that are in the early days of crafting their corporate citizenship strategies. One of the questions we always get asked is: “What have others done that we can learn from?”

We thought we would collect some stories and strategies from executives at eight leading Canadian corporations so that those just getting their feet wet in the area of corporate citizenship can learn and benefit.

1 – Donate more money to fewer charities

Traditionally, companies donated smaller amounts of money to many charities. The thinking was that if you gave to lots of charities, everyone benefitted. But this raised an important question: By giving $1,000 to here and $500 to there and another $2,500 to somewhere else, what impact were corporations really having? Were they really making a difference? Companies now recognize they can have a bigger impact if they focus their giving. This isn’t about giving less. It’s about giving more to fewer charities.

When Inco merged with CVRD – now known as Vale – the Canadian mining company realized there was an opportunity to review and renew its corporate giving strategy. Erin Satterthwaite, Director, Communications and Community Investment at Vale, stated that, “Following the merger, there was a chance for us to review the giving history of each organization and then come together to make more strategic choices about where we could have the most impact moving forward.” The result was that the company went from supporting a few hundred Canadian charities at a modest level to making major investments in a few dozen charities.

“This did two important things for us. First, we were able to develop deeper relationships with our charitable partners. We now know them better. They now know us better. What’s more, we each have clear expectations about outcomes and how resources will be invested to achieve those outcomes. We couldn’t have had this level of relationship before,” says Satterthwaite. “Secondly, we now have more meaningful success stories to share. This goes a long way in building stronger relationships with our employees and the communities where we work.”

2 – Bring more to the table than just money

Gone are the days when companies were simply “cheque writers”. Companies now recognize that they can bring tremendous value to a charity above and beyond just their cash contributions, from employee volunteers to in-kind services and supports to specialized knowledge and expertise to distribution networks. Today’s businesses want to get behind an issue, not just in front of the press.

“It’s easy to write a cheque,” says Sharon Mathers, Senior Vice President, Communications & Public Affairs at CIBC. “But we can do more than just make a donation. We have a vast pool of employees, locations, skills and capabilities that many charities may not have access to. We can do so much more if we work together.”

The CIBC Run for the Cure is a perfect example of how a company can leverage its significant assets to truly advance a cause. In the early 90s, the Run for the Cure was a small, grassroots event held in select communities across the country and some BC-based employees participated in support of a colleague who was facing breast cancer. That grassroots support led CIBC to become a national sponsor. Since 1997, CIBC has helped grow the event to one of the most successful cancer fundraisers in the country. The most valuable asset the bank brought to the table wasn’t cash. It was their employees and customers who got behind the issue with their hearts, their soles and their pocketbooks.

Last year alone, more than 13,000 employees and their families in communities across the country helped recruit volunteers, organize local runs, provide education and awareness, and drive event sign-ups and participation. These efforts helped contribute to more than $27 million raised in support of the fight against cancer.

“Other contributions CIBC puts toward the cause include pink merchandise sold in branches across the country, strategic and marketing expertise of CIBC leadership on the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Board, promotions to support a travelling mobile screening bus and national multi-media event marketing,” says Mathers. “Since 1997, we’ve worked with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation to inspire an army of Canadians that are passionate about finding a cure for cancer. A simple cheque never could have accomplished this.” While the cause benefits tremendously from CIBC’s support, the company also benefits from this commitment.

In their annual brand research surveys, CIBC consistently scores incredibly well on community involvement – customers see CIBC as a communityminded company and their commitment to the Run for the Cure is seen as a shining example. Employees also take enourmous pride in the Run and one of the highest scores the company gets on their annual employee survey reveals that staff believe CIBC is committed to their communities. Cisco is another company that is bringing more than just money to the table. Over two years ago, the company was part of a meeting that explored the vast health and education challenges facing Northern Aboriginal children. Instead of being overwhelmed by the issue, CISCO was motivated to help find a solution. And the solution wasn’t more money.

It was the creation of an immersive and interactive education and healthcare program called Connected North – an initiative that links Grade 6, 7 and 8 classrooms via high-definition TelePresence with realtime teachers, experts and other students throughout Canada, for a more engaging, diverse and dynamic classroom experience. The program also focuses on connecting psychiatric and youth mental health services to Northern Aboriginal and Inuit communities for the first time ever.

“At Cisco, we believe that amazing things can happen through connections,” says Willa Black, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Cisco Canada. “And connections are at the heart of Connected North. First, we created technology connections to help bring education to life in the classroom. But so much more than this are the additional connections we’ve helped bring to the table. We built an ecosystem of partners all focused on the virtual delivery of much-needed health and education services in Canada’s most remote, northern communities. From innovative educational content to employees who have volunteered their time to set the network up to collaborating with like-minded partners like the RBC Foundation. What we do best is drive connections and we’re seeing this play out in really exciting ways.”

The program was also designed to achieve a very specific outcome. For example, the educational component was created to showcase innovations in the field of learning with the aim of encouraging students to attend class regularly. And there are early signs that the program is working. According preliminary research results both teachers and students view the program positively. A majority (89%) of students reported that the remote learning experience made science more enjoyable and 81% said they felt they learned more in the virtual sessions than they did through traditional classroom learning. The focus of the program is to provide a fresh approach to learning, allowing teachers and administrators to expose their students to new people, experiences and ideas.

3 – Look for personalized partnerships

Charities often present a menu of options when looking for funding. Or, they have a very specific program for which they are seeking support. More and more companies are looking to go beyond the menu of available options in order to create customized partnerships that deliver against specific social and business objectives. This means “off the shelf” programs aren’t as easy to sell to companies anymore.

When Rogers created Rogers Youth Fund – a fund dedicated to helping at-risk youth achieve educational success – they wanted to support kids 12-19 in new and exciting ways. They also had a very specific set of criteria to help drive their partnerships. “At the heart of our partnership process were very specific criteria that would help guide our decision making,” says Peter King, Director of Sponsorships at Rogers. “Impact is all about making sure that everything we support is helping create a real difference in the academic success of Canada’s kids. Focus is all about being absolutely clear on what we want to put our support behind. And measurable is about putting the right benchmarks and tracking in place to be able to evaluate impact over time. We don’t want to depend on a hunch that the program is working; we want to be able to know if it is working with real, measurable outcomes.”

The overarching strategy and specific criteria helped create guideposts for the kinds of programs Rogers would support. Rogers then reached out to United Ways and Community Foundations across the country to help identify innovative charitable players in youth education. These players were then invited to help create customized, local responses geared to the educational challenges facing youth in each region. After a stringent review process, Rogers selected 16 programs across the country that are each working to reduce the high school dropout rate in their region. “We have also created a national partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada that delivers against the same strategy and criteria.

What’s unique about this national partnership is that we’ve identified 35 clubs across the country that could benefit from afterschool academic support programs and access to technology centres. Rogers Raising the Grade and Raising the Grade Technology Centres provide students with personal mentors and the latest computers to help bridge the digital divide — a significant barrier to keeping up with schoolwork. Customized technology in clubs across the country help give kids a chance to not only keep up but get ahead,” says King. “Together, we’re creating something that is so much more powerful than what could ever have been pitched to us blindly.”

4 – Engage people with positivity and possibilities

In the social issue arena, many believe that you have to promote the problem in order to draw people into supporting it. A child in desperate need of food. A homeless man struggling on the streets. Or a woman suffering the devastating impact of cancer. While this creative philosophy has its merits, companies are moving toward promoting potential over problems. They are seeing that they can garner more enthusiasm, support and engagement by calling on customers,
employees and other stakeholders to help contribute to more and better outcomes with messages of hope, possibility and progress.

“Creating an emotional connection is key,” says Scott Bonikowsky, Senior Vice-President, Corporate, Public & Government Affairs at Tim Hortons Inc. “We feel we can have a more powerful emotional connection with our audiences when we share what is possible. Focusing on the self-esteem, confidence and leadership skills that our kids learn at our camps – this is what gets our people excited. From our point of view, an inspiring story with great outcomes is what drives people to generosity.”

At major meetings across the country, Tim Hortons restaurant owners are often moved to tears with the stories of how the camps have impacted kids’ lives. More than 17,000 young adults each year are thriving in large part thanks to their camp days. And while each and every camper may have faced significant challenges from poverty to abuse to mental illness, that’s not what defines them or their future potential. Their struggles aren’t what move people – it’s their potential that does.

5 – Deliver meaningful and measurable impact

For many years, charitable giving was measured by how much money was raised for or donated to a specific cause. Press releases with six or seven figures in the headline or cheque presentations were a staple when it came to showcasing corporate giving. Today’s best-in-class corporations are holding themselves to higher standards. It is no longer enough to just give money away; companies also want to understand the impact of their gifts. “At Procter & Gamble Canada, we recently asked ourselves how we can ensure that our corporate commitment to improving lives is also guiding how we give. How can we specifically support charitable programs that contribute to a real, lasting improvement in someone’s life?” says Susan Nieuwhof, Director of Corporate Citizenship, Procter & Gamble. “Our consumers are also looking to better understand what difference we are making together.”

A recent example is a cause marketing promotion that P&G supported in partnership with Walmart. For each purchase of a selection of P&G products at Walmart until March 2015, P&G will donate one day’s worth of clean drinking water to the Children’s Safe Drinking Water Fund. “Instead of arbitrarily stating, for example, that we would donate 10 cents from every sale to supporting children’s health, we clearly communicated to our consumers that their simple action of buying one of our products would translate into a full day of clean drinking water. That together we could make a real difference in the lives of about one billion people who don’t have access to safe drinking water.

We also created an online counter to show how the campaign is doing. Just three weeks into May 2014, it was already at 32% of our Canadian campaign goal of 25 million clean water days,” says Nieuwhof. “If charitable requests can more proactively identify specific outcomes that can be directly linked to the dollars we are giving, this can go a long way in supporting our internal decision-making process. And the more specific, the better,” says Nieuwhof. “Sharing
real, tangible impact is also an important part of the story we tell to our consumers and employees and we rely on our charitable partners to help us evaluate and measure this. More importantly, charities need to know that we’ll move people and resources behind a cause, if we can demonstrate real impact.”

6 – Create a signature brand to profile giving

More and more companies are creating branded signature causes to focus their decision making and promote their charitable giving commitments. Tim Hortons Camp Day. Bell Let’s Talk. Shoppers WOMEN. In fact, more than 55% of Canadian companies now have a signature cause or promotion. Canadian Tire Jumpstart was an early leader in this field.

“For over 90 years, Canadian Tire has been part of more than 1,700 communities across the country. We are a proud member of the community and we need to play our part in supporting the communities where we operate. Focusing our giving in order to have a stronger impact on a key community issue was a key reason why we created Jumpstart as our signature charitable program,” says Landon French, Vice President, Jumpstart and Community Relations, Canadian Tire Corporation. “We were seeing serious trends in inactivity and obesity in children and this was having a direct effect on our communities. We knew we could have an impact on the situation so we decided to step in. As a company that excels in sport and recreation, we saw a great opportunity to get involved in the issue of children and physical activity and do something specific about it.”

“Creating a signature program also helped us take more control of our brand story which in turn helps us help more kids. Jumpstart enables us to develop a deeper relationship with our employees and customers too,” says French. “Through Jumpstart, we’re seen as a significant community player because we’re helping more kids get a chance to be part of a team. We can’t farm this critical brand building out to a charity to do on our behalf.” RBC has also gone to great lengths to create a signature brand to showcase its commitment to the environment. “When we launched RBC Blue Water in late 2007, we were looking for a cause that could unite our organization across geographies and across business lines. It was also clear at the time that we had very little public profile on environmental issues, and that this was a gap in terms of our initiatives,” says Shari Austin, Vice President, Corporate Citizenship, and Executive Director of the RBC Foundation. “We reviewed a number of potential environmental issues, and water came to the fore quite quickly as the ‘next big thing’. It was also a topic relevant on all levels, personal, local, national and international.”

A branded signature program can build brand trust, loyalty and reputation. And while the social returns on investment are well documented, more and more research is demonstrating that a social brand can help deliver business returns as well. “The Blue Water Project has allowed us to engage with employees, clients, the general public, and more than 750 charitable grant recipients worldwide about the importance of fresh water. Now, 7 years into the project, approximately 25% of those polled in public opinion surveys know about the project and RBC’s commitment to water. And we know that, when they are aware of the project, they look more favourably on our business products and services,” says Austin.

While this may be old news to some, for others just getting started on their corporate citizenship journey, these basic strategies can serve as a guide when looking to create stronger, more impactful community investment programs. And learning from best-in-class companies can help you get there faster.

By Andrea Donlan, President and CEO of Manifest Communications Inc.