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Create a social responsibility strategy for a competitive advantage

Investing in your community is about more than just doing what’s right; it’s smart for your business’s future — and its bottom line. In today’s marketplace, being a good business citizen can give you an edge over competitors while simultaneously making a real difference in the lives of your neighbors.

Business citizenship takes the basic tenets of corporate social responsibility — follow the rules, do no harm, contribute to social programs and grow the economy — to the next level. Being a good business citizen means philanthropy, volunteerism, community support, and civic participation are central to the day-to-day operations of your business and your employees’ responsibilities.

Being a good business citizen also requires an investment.

Yes, your business faces a never-ending list of essentials that includes everything from R&D and new technologies to staffing, training and employee benefits. Add marketing, the array of liability insurances, and, of course, the ever-constant stream of office supplies, and the costs of running a business can get overwhelming. With all of this, it’s completely understandable that business leaders are reluctant to refocus hard-earned resources outside their own operations.

But they shouldn’t be.

Consumers and employees care — and judge — businesses on their citizenship practices. According to the Do Well Do Good public opinion surveys on cause marketing and sustainability, 83 percent of consumers expect businesses to try achieving their business goals while improving society and the environment, and 25 percent of employees would seriously consider leaving their jobs if their employers gave little or no money to charity.

Business citizenship can enhance your overall business strategy by adding opportunities to gain competitive advantages and improve relationships with customers, partners and employees. It can also drive innovation, develop immunity to short-term economic fluctuations and strengthen your team.

Here are 10 tactics for building your business citizenship strategy:

1. Align cause(s) with your business goals.

Addressing your community’s needs and growing your business don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Look at the issues you and your employees care about and strategize how you can help while enhancing your work.

2. Get your employees in on the action. 

When your employees love what they’re doing and feel like they’re making a difference, they are more willing to work harder and stay loyal. Beyond this, volunteer work — and board service in particular — are great training opportunities to develop leadership and networking skills for your team.

3. Serve on a community board.

Look for a board that fits with your company’s goals or purpose. Not only can you help a cause or organization you care about, you also build strong relationships with other regional influencers, demonstrate your commitment to your community and prove your ability to lead.

4. Join your chamber of commerce.

Chambers can be invaluable for your business, offering tools and resources to help you grow, as well as credibility for consumers researching purchasing options. Beyond that, chambers are a one-stop access point to a variety of networking and business contacts, turning active participation into full-fledged civic leadership roles that can help shape the future of the entire community.

5. Build partnerships.

If you’re already serving on a community board or volunteering, building partnerships is a relatively easy add-on. With the connections you’ve made, you can find other ways to collaborate on local initiatives, which can further expand your connections with other local businesses that sell products or ideas complementary to your own.

6. Host community meetings.

If your business has the space, offer it for free as a gathering place for local community groups. Not only does it help those organizations save on costs, it can help you build positive relationships with the members of those groups or clubs, keeping you top of mind when they need goods and services. If you really want to make an impact, consider offering your expertise as a guest speaker or mentor.

7. Be civically engaged. 

You don’t have to run for office to be active in your community’s local government. You can donate, promote or host fundraisers for the elected officials, candidates and issues in which you most believe. You can even take it a step further by offering your company’s services pro bono to help support the various projects and programs of elected officials you support. Showing your civic support can not only drive the community in ways you care about but can also get you heard amongst those making the decisions in the future.

8. Sponsor a local group, event or team. 

Whether it’s a new young professionals group, a 5K charity run or even a local sports team, contributing your business’s dollars to support a cause or activity that enhances the community is an easy and effective way to contribute while connecting your business with new and targeted audiences. To make your presence strong and memorable, set up a table, run special sales or encourage your employees to volunteer.

9. Be a local expert. 

Stay in the know on the happenings in your community — follow local news, read blogs, subscribe to e-newsletters by local organizations and participate in social media. Better yet, write your own articles for local media, run your own blog and be active on social platforms. Not only will you demonstrate your expertise, you’ll also become a go-to ambassador for your community and a company people will turn to when they need help.

10. Shop local.

One of the single best ways to be a good business citizen is to offer your financial loyalty to the other businesses in your community. You can also participate in, promote or even organize events that encourage others to do their part in stimulating the local economy and maintaining a vibrant business community.

Remember, being a good business citizen does not mean being 100-percent altruistic. After all, you have a responsibility to yourself, your family, your employees and even the community to be a sustainable and profitable business that contributes to the economy. Yet, adding a thoughtful citizenship strategy to your business plan can provide essential philanthropic and leadership support to nonprofit and community organizations and programs, as well as help further your overall business goals.

This article has been adapted from one we originally published in Comstock’s Magazine.

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