Walking the Walk: Why Corporate Citizenship is More Important Than Ever

As COVID-19 continues its unforgiving spread in communities across the globe, business leaders have found themselves at a moment of truth, one that will not only test their leadership, but also change how business operates for years to come. In the last 18 months, the demand for corporate ESG (environmental, social and governance) strategies has been on the rise and the need to proactively report corporate narratives that showcase broader social purpose has never been higher.

With so much at stake, people are looking to both the public and private sector to help meet societal needs.  They not only expect their local, state and federal government to act, but they also expect corporate leaders to do the right thing. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by FTI Consulting, 82 percent of Americans are paying more attention than usual to “Leaders/ CEOs stepping up to help those in need.”

By taking action, a company can further define its commitment to being purpose- or mission-driven. With rising levels of unemployment, increased demand at food banks, children in need of continued education and shortages of protective gear for medical professionals, there are no shortage of opportunities for companies to help. No single company can solve the problems we are facing, and no contribution is too small. It’s time to roll up those figurative corporate sleeves and truly give back to the people and communities that have enabled businesses to thrive.

Consider the following as you begin to develop the path your company will take.

Employ a People-First Approach

Eighty six percent of Americans say they are paying more attention than usual to “how companies care for their employees’ safety and well-being.” Once you have implemented safety protocols and have established a process for ongoing communications with your employees, consider additional ways to support the critical needs of your people and other stakeholders. If your business is still open, have you taken extra measures to ensure employee and customer safety? If you are distributing products, how are you safeguarding your employee’s health? Ensure you are balancing your acts of goodwill in the community with communications that reinforce the point that the safety and well-being of your employees remains a top priority. Similarly, with concerns about job security at an all-time high, it will be important to take a measured approach to ensure any giving does not compromise employment. FTI Consulting’s survey also found that 79 percent of Americans are paying more attention than usual to “how companies are paying or retaining their employees.” Executives who have pledged to forgo their salaries may mean well, but ultimately, making business decisions that protect employees will have the greatest long-term impact on trust, loyalty and reputation.

Think About Your Products and Services

Are you a manufacturer of essential goods that can be donated to communities in need? Do you manage supply chain logistics and have the ability to create new avenues to redirect resources to isolated populations? Do you have a corporate foundation or giving program with the ability to reallocate funds to nonprofits that are providing critical services at this time? There are new examples emerging every day of companies that are finding creative ways to leverage their businesses to meet the growing needs of communities across the world from lending money to local aid agencies to donating products and services. This includes manufacturers who are converting and outfitting their shop floors to support the production of personal protective equipment, sanitizers, and more. In other cases, food distributors are delivering essential items to frontline workers and underserved communities where they operate. Consider ways your company can contribute to the broader relief effort.

Convene and Connect Your Network

In some cases, a company might not have the right type of infrastructure in place to provide necessary services or support. In these instances, consider your network or research organizations in your community to which you can lend support. While you alone may not have the right capabilities to address the needs in your community, think about the ways in which you can serve as a convener to partner with other companies to combine resources to do more. In addition to corporate partners, think about opportunities to partner with the nonprofit organizations. The nonprofit sector has more experience managing humanitarian crises and better suited to respond. These partnerships will also deliver long-lasting benefits not only for both the beneficiaries, but also your company.

Be Authentic.

There is no doubt that big institutions, including the private sector and the government have universally experienced a loss of public trust. There has arguably never been a more important time or greater opportunity to rebuild this trust than now. More than anything else, corporate giving needs to be meaningful, authentic and credible. Business leaders have the opportunity to leverage their power in positive ways to mobilize much-needed resources, establish meaningful partnerships and develop innovative solutions to meet the rapidly evolving needs in our communities around the country and across the globe. In addition to helping to solve some of the biggest challenges our world has ever faced, the value of your contributions and leadership at this time will have a lasting effect.

Finding our way to the other side of this fight is bigger than one person or one company. We cannot do this alone. Corporate leaders must step up and walk the walk.

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