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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sustainable Community Investment or Helping the Needy?

I have noticed some contrasts recently in the sort of giving employees want to do with the sort of giving companies want to do. As a company we want our community investment to be strategic and sustainable. For BT, with core competencies and impact in the ICT space, that means communications and digital inclusion. But employees, myself included, want to do things that involve a hands-on approach and that tackle an immediate need.

From a sustainable community investment perspective it is best to help a homeless person learn a skill so they can get a job, but working in a soup kitchen or donating to a food pantry is a hands-on approach that is more immediately fulfilling. Likewise donating money to help cure people with heart disease seems like a more charitable cause than donating your money towards a healthy living education program – although the latter might be better value. On a personal level most of us want to do things that meet the immediate requirements of a needy person.

In addition, personally, I want to do things that get me out of my normal office environment and working in different capacity. I am sure that why so many people like to work in soup kitchens.

Our emotional drivers as individuals incline us towards programs that help sustain the needy rather than truly sustainable programs that tackle the underlying issue.

Companies can and do address these differences by distinguishing between the drivers and appropriate funding to put behind employee engagement programs versus the drivers and appropriate funding to put behind corporate giving.

But the real trick is to find programs at the intersection of both employee drivers and strategic and sustainable community involvement. I am still working on it and would be interested to hear any you have come across in your sectors.


  1. One thought I had, Kevin, is engaging in community environmental sustainability projects. From doing wetland restoration to building community gardens (perhaps even to benefit a homeless shelter), you can find that intersection between tangible results and feeling good about your work. Further, it gets at the bottom of what truly keeps a community sustainable...

  2. Dave, thanks for the additional thoughts. What I was trying to address with this post is that we do not allow volunteering to become an end in itself. Community Investment should be a route to becoming more sensitive to societal needs. We want to avoid the "I volunteered in the soup kitchen at Thanksgiving so don't accuse me of not paying my employees a living wage" syndrome. I am sure similar examples exist in the environmental space ! CR practitioners should see it as part of their role to maintain the right emphasis on community investment in this regard.