The Importance of Business-Community Partnerships

Businesses increasingly play a key role in building stronger communities. It’s something that people in the past few years have come to expect. It’s created not only a way to improve local communities, but also boost an organization’s employee morale, loyalty and brand reputation.

One of the main ways businesses can impact their communities is through business-community partnerships that help overcome social, political and economic conditions to achieve mutually beneficial results.

The benefits for communities are the most tangible. For example, some businesses pick a nonprofit organization, school or community center to support with money, volunteer manpower, goods and materials. Businesses can provide continuous, direct support and, in some cases, deeper pockets than local government agencies.

Businesses also see benefits. They include higher levels of job satisfaction for employees who want to work for organizations that make a positive difference in the community. Businesses also enhance their brand with consumers and create a new network of potential customers or future employees.

People Trust Businesses More Than Governments

Investors consider many factors when deciding to back a business. In the last few years, an organization’s commitment to ESG – environmental, social and governance concerns – has started to play a larger role in making that decision.

Social concerns have especially taken center stage. Both investors and consumers expect businesses to play a key role in supporting community initiatives. It’s something people not only expect from private businesses but also trust them to do, as made clear in the Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 report.

The report included information from surveys of more than 36,000 people in 28 countries. Globally, businesses earned the highest levels of trust from most respondents, ranking higher than non-governmental organizations, government and the media. More importantly in the context of business-community partners, respondents listed businesses as more likely than the government to take a leadership role and “coordinate cross-institutional efforts to solve societal problems.”

Also, 66% of respondents named “my CEO” as trustworthy, while 74% said the same about coworkers. Government leaders ranked the lowest, at 42%.

The report states: “The role and expectation for business has never been clearer, and business must recognize that its societal role is here to stay.”

Building a Business-Community Partnership

Against this backdrop, it’s clear why more business leaders have decided that investment in the social fabric of their communities is an important part of their mission. This can take many different forms.

Business-community partnerships go beyond the typical community projects businesses have done for many years, such as hosting a charity walk-a-thon or sponsoring a blood drive, according to Spark Hire. The idea is to partner with an organization and provide ongoing support that is consistent and reliable.

Schools are a frequent choice for business-community partnerships. For example, Kettle Moraine High School in Wisconsin actively seeks business partnerships in recognition of the “the importance of leveraging the ‘It takes a village’ approach,” according to the school’s website.

The school seeks businesses that can provide internships, student mentors, guest speakers, professional development and training for teachers, equipment and supplies, and monetary investments, such as funding opportunities that enhance the learning experience of students.

Examples of Strong Business-Community Partnerships

The best business-community partnerships involve a group of employees who have a strong interest in volunteering on community building projects.  The desire among employees is certainly there – a study reported in the Atlanta Business Journal found that  71% of Millennials, 69% of Gen X and 46% of Baby Boomers want to do more social-purpose work while on the job.

But while employees provide the manpower and drive to make partnerships work, leaders must first take the steps to find partnerships that best serve the community and company interests. Every year, the Civic 50 list created by the international non-profit Points of Light honors companies that use time, skills and resources to improve communities.

The most recent lists include some of the best-known brands in the country, including Adobe, American International Group, Capital One Financial (No. 22 on Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s 2022 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list), Comcast NBCUniversal (No. 7 on the 2022 Top 50 list), Citi, CVS Health (No. 28 on the list), Deloitte, General Mills, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, John Deere, The Kellogg Company (No. 35 on the list), Subaru of America and The Hershey Company (No. 6 on the list).

Points of Light also reported insights from the survey of the 50 companies.

  • In total, the 50 companies donated a total of $2 billion and $1.8 billion worth of in-kind contributions.
  • Employees from the companies spent 5.8 million hours volunteering.
  • Fifty-six percent of the companies – up from 24% in 2019 – now focus on human and civil rights as part of their company mission.
  • All the companies treat community partnerships as part of business strategy, not charity. Community engagement is integrated into business functions such as diversity and inclusion, employee engagement, employee health and wellness, and marketing/public relations.

A host of businesses also offer jobs that allow people to focus on building communities as part of their daily job. The Muse lists some of these, including Yelp, Global Giving (which uses crowdfunding to finance community initiatives) and the open access academic publishing company Frontiers, based in Switzerland.

Whatever shape the partnership takes, businesses who take social responsibility seriously can create a strong impact on their communities, often providing the goods, services, manpower and money that governments cannot provide. That alone makes it an idea worth pursuing.