The power of connecting businesses to the local community

I started Edbacker because I wanted to find a way to make it easier for parents to participate in school fundraising efforts. There is an educational funding gap in K-12 schools in the US, and while I wanted to help, as a working parent, I couldn’t always attend restaurant nights or remember to buy gallons of cookie dough in time.

As I began to look at possible solutions, I quickly realised that schools themselves also needed and wanted an easier way to raise money, without the administrative burden that comes with traditional fundraising approaches. Edbacker has come a long way from the original idea but the fundamentals have stayed the same - make it easy for everyone (school districts, parents and corporations) to participate. The first two (parents and schools) might seem obvious but how do corporations play a role?

One of Edbacker’s first corporate partners was Samsung semi-conductor in Austin, TX. Originally we met with them to talk about how we could solve the national educational funding gap. While we were brainstorming ideas, they started to ask about how they could help the school district right in their back yard (literally). Manor Independent School District is right outside of Austin and Samsung wanted to direct support where their employees live and work.

Read: Meeting Washington’s security entrepreneurs

We realised that giving to schools is a very personal and local experience. Samsung ultimately decided that the best way they could support the school district was to cover the cost of the Edbacker platform for the district to use, and contribute to each school’s fundraiser on the platform. This alone was a huge benefit to the school district, but Samsung didn’t stop there. They encouraged their employees to donate to the schools that were important to them and arranged team volunteer opportunities so employees could donate their time along with their money to these schools.

I walked away from that experience in Manor with a renewed passion to keep exploring new ways businesses connect to their local communities. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask the panel at #LetItFlyDC  how they connect their businesses to the community. Sheila C. Johnson, CEO of Salamander Hospitality, shared her approach of focusing on disadvantaged youths in her community.

She mentors a group of students she personally selects, and grants them access to her networks, opening up connections they would not otherwise make.

I was eager to continue the discussion, and I am thrilled that the Virgin team invited me to do that here on the blog. Joining me today is Cliff Yee, Managing Director of Raffa CSR Services. Cliff has over 15 years of professional services experience gained in the consulting, financial services, and non-profit sectors delivering business value and social impact.

Question: What is CSR, how has it evolved over time, and what does it look like today?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is about how a company includes public interest in corporate decision making. As what matters to the public has evolved and changed over time, so has the idea of what it means to be a responsible business. For example, prior to the 1980s, most households in the US did not recycle, nor did many businesses. Fastfoward to today and most companies recycle a portion of their materials and make a concerted effort to reduce waste. Today really successful companies integrate their CSR strategies with their mission and values, and with their employees and customers values as well, which has created a much broader view of CSR than we’ve seen in the past.

Why do you think connecting to the local community is so important in CSR today?

Local has become a trendy concept in CSR, and with good reason. Many non-profits and NGOs have seen over time that their programmes and solutions are most sustainable, and therefore most successful, when they involve and rely on locals from within the community they are trying to impact. Similarly, companies have seen increased returns on their philanthropic investment when they focus on the communities in which their employees and customers work and play. Why? Because when employees and customers feel that the company supports what is important and relevant to them, they are more likely to become engaged and advocates of the company. These advocates positively influencing the company’s culture and brand reputation, helping to further differentiate it from its competitors.

What innovative ideas have you seen?

This is one of my favorite CSR Topics, and I could probably keep us here all day discussing innovative ideas! I’ll try and narrow it down to three of my favorites. 

1. Whole Foods sets a high bar for other corporations, donating well over five per cent of its net profits each year. While the dollar amount Whole Foods donates is impressive, how they give back is even more so. Many companies would allocate the largest portion of their budget to a select group of organisations at the national (or global level) and leave a smaller amount to their local stores to activate as they see fit. But not Whole Foods. As a company, they are quite unique as each store is empowered to decide best way to operate that individual store to meet the needs of the local community, including how to give back. That makes community giving really special and fun for its employees as they get to support causes that are personal to them. Several times a year, stores hold community giving days (otherwise known as "5% Days") where five pe rcent of that day’s net sales are donated to a local nonprofit or educational organisation, selected by that store’s team.

2. We’d be remiss to write this post and not consider Virgin itself. One Virgin initiative that really stands out to me is Galactic Unite. Galactic Unite is a unique collaboration between Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, and Richard Branson’s Foundation, Virgin Unite. Galactic Unite doesn’t just give scholarships to deserving people around the world who are purpose aligned with Virgin Galactic - they also tap into their team of 700 passionate Future Astronauts to mentor the scholarship recipients as well. In this way, the Future Astronauts are influencing the programme and personally shaping the next generation of space pioneers.

3. Sales Force does a tremendous job integrating philanthropy into their core business operations, and they do not just stop at donating money. Their easy-to-understand, easy-to-replicate philanthropic approach, 1:1:1, is based on a simple, yet compelling idea: leverage their technology, people and financial resources to improve communities through the world. With this model as their guide Sales Force donates one per cent of their product, one per cent of their employee’s time and one per cent of their equity to community organisations around the world. Sales Force’s CEO, Marc Benioff, has always believed that for-profits should think of themselves as part of the solution, not part of the problem. By establishing a simple model that utilizes the company’s best assets (their product and their people) and couples it with the company’s resources, he has created viable solution other companies can easily adopt, and they encourage others to Pledge 1%.

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