4 Essentials to Strengthening Your Community as a Business Leader

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This article is taken from the Build Your Queue podcast below, Season 2 Episode 17 with Tim Kelly, owner of Kelly Cars, managing partner of Chattanooga Brewing Co, co-founder of Chattanooga Football Club, and past chairman of the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.

You're running a great business, but you want to do more than sell products and services.

How can you as a business leader make time to strengthen your community? And can building up your community also build up your business, or are nonprofits and economic development a distraction?

Civic and business responsibilities will work hand in hand to benefit both you and your community, but first you need to ask yourself:

  • What advantages can a prosperous community give back to your business?
  • How can you determine what you have to offer your community?
  • How do you get your team onboard to do civic work?
  • What kinds of nonprofits or economic development programs will best fit your business?

We’ll help you answer these questions, so you walk away encouraged to contribute to your town knowing the work can come back to grow your own company. Keep reading, or listen to the full audio in the player above.

1. What are the benefits your community can give back to your business?

You want to help the community you live in and love. But your first responsibility is to your business, serving your customers, and taking care of your employees. So how can community involvement come back to help your business goals?

Being involved with the community directly impacts your:

  • Recruitment opportunities
  • Quality of life for employees
  • Positive PR

62% of people say they prefer to work for companies that allow and encourage them to contribute to the community. 78% of employees also report feeling less stressed when they volunteer, and 76% view volunteering as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Having happy employees who regularly give back to the community also sets you up for great PR and local coverage. You’ll even set the groundwork for great future employees when you contribute to educational and economic development. At the end of the day, if you’re producing better students you’re going to have a better employee pool.

Both the size of your community and the amount of commitment you put into it will determine the positive effects you see. For example, if you’re in a small or mid-sized city, there’s more opportunities to stand out than there would be in a large city.

What’s going on in your town also has an effect on your business, and being a part of it gives you the chance to direct policies and help people causes that can in turn help your business.

PC: Selective

2. How can you determine what you have to offer to your community?

Where can you spend your time helping your community, and how can you make sure it’s worth it?

You'll find limitless volunteer opportunities, but how do you make sure you’re picking ones that align with your business’s values?

Start by finding an area of need that’s in line with the work you already do. For example, a fitness studio could donate well balanced meals to encourage healthy eating at local food banks. Or a dental practice could provide free hygiene lessons at local schools.

Whatever your skill set or expertise, you could teach a free class or offer some sort of educational session to a particular program.

You’ll also want to consider the schedule you have at your business and what time you have leftover for philanthropy. Otherwise you risk falling through on your commitments.

Once you know the amount of time you can commit, you’ll also need to ask yourself what you want to get out of the opportunity as far as long-term rewards. Are you trying to build relationships? Do you want positive publicity? Are you trying to increase your pool of potential recruits?

Pursuing opportunities that align with those long-term goals will give you more urgency and drive to fully invest in the work.

Go through each of these factors to help you narrow down your options, so you pick something that you know you’ll make the most impact in.

3. How do you get your team on board to do civic work?

Leading by example is typically your best bet to encourage your teammates to value giving back to the community. You've gotta be doing the work if you want others to also do the work.

Servant leadership, or leadership that is based on helping others rather than just directing people, relies on persuasion instead of authority to get others to follow your example. You can be a servant leader by rewarding good behavior, instead of punishing negative ones, and taking direct ownership of the outcomes you want to see to make your employees lives both easier and happier.

Top CEOs around the world commonly practice this leadership style, and they have great success increasing their employee retention, engagement, and ROI. It also helps that focus on community engagement is an innate part of servant leadership’s philosophy.

Aside from leading by example, it also helps to hire people who already value providing for their community.

Your hiring managers can achieve this by directly asking candidates where they'd spend their time, given the chance. You also want to be upfront about your team’s priorities, and see if the person is either excited or deterred by them.

Related: 3 Ways to Get Others to Follow Your Ideas

4. Which nonprofit or economic development work should you participate in?

Align with organizations or causes that represent your customer base.

For example, if your business serves a mostly latinx population, it will make those customers happy to know that you’re donating money to a local nonprofit that specifically supports your latinx community. A veterinarian clinic would likewise want to support charities that help animals.

There may be social controversies around the organizations or events you choose to sponsor, but as long as they align with the values of your customer base you shouldn’t let them deter you.

Once you find the group you want to support, you’ll need to decide what kind of work you want to help them with.

  • Frontline service: services that involve you physically being available (mentoring or cleanup)
  • Skill-based: helping organizations with professional areas you’re an expert in (marketing, tech, ect.)
  • Governance: joining boards or advocating for other leaders

This can be decided based on what the organization needs help with the most or based on what works best for your time schedule.

Take care of the pond you swim in.

Partnering with nonprofits or sponsoring events that add to quality of life is equal parts marketing value and philanthropy.

Serving your community does bring about good PR opportunities, but more importantly it ensures the health of your city. When everyone’s doing well, you will too.

Related: [Podcast] 4 Steps to Creating a Loyal Brand Community