4 Things Every Leader Needs to Know Today About Corporate Citizenship Today's business leaders need to do more than just make money: They are responsible for serving their communities.

By Heather R. Huhman

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Businesses are no longer seen just as organizations designed to make money. After years of hearing about corporate corruption, consumers have come to expect more from the companies they patronize.

Related: 4 Steps for Launching Corporate Social Responsibility at Your Business

In fact, an April survey from Deloitte, of more than 11,000 global HR and business leaders, found that 77 percent of respondent organizations agreed that corporate citizenship is important. Yet, only 18 percent had strategies that reflected that priority.

So, why the disconnect?

Part of the reason may be the politically divisive time we live in. Leaders are unsure how to get involved with certain causes without upsetting segments of their customer base. But doing nothing is just as bad, because that ignores that all-important responsibility companies have to their communities.

By approaching corporate citizenship the right way, however, leaders can help their team make a positive impact. Here are four ways how:

Start at the top.

Executives serve as an example for the entire organization of how to behave -- especially when it comes to social responsibility. When a company's top leaders take the time to get involved, employees see the importance of making time to volunteer.

"We definitely see an increase in the elevation of corporate citizenship roles to executive status," Katherine Smith, executive director of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship (BCCCC), said in a January Forbes article.

Corporate citizenship benefits organizations in a number of ways. The BCCCC's 2017 State of Corporate Citizenship report found that 79 percent of executives involved in corporate citizenship said they were able to reduce employee turnover last year. By comparison, only 29 percent of executives without such programs reported such progress.

Related: 5 Lessons on Taking a Stand You Can Learn From Patagonia

So, make the time to get involved with your company's corporate citizenship program. That means more than just showing up for big events. Sit in on planning meetings. Ask to be on email chains relevant to the day-to-day goings on of the program. This will show your entire team how important corporate citizenship is to the organization.

Rely on company values.

Corporate citizenship programs are about doing what's right. They shouldn't be a ploy for photo ops and good press. They need sincere employee buy-in. To achieve that, leaders need to align their corporate citizenship programs with company values.

Focus on what your team believes, and why. Think about how your organization is trying to change the world through the work it does. Then, look for ways to translate those goals into corporate citizenship.

For example, an ed-tech company could start an after-school tutoring program for at-risk students in the community. A marketing company could create ads for a local charity fundraiser. The key here is to tie corporate citizenship initiatives back to what matters most to your company and employees.

Take baby steps.

Getting involved and making an impact in the community is a process. That's why it's necessary to begin with small steps and build from there. For example, Washington D.C.-based digital advocacy startup Phone2Action recently decided to eliminate plastic from its workplace. But that doesn't mean the company threw out all plastic in one day.

"Social responsibility requires work and being open to change, which can be hard, especially when it comes to sustainability," co-founder and president Ximena Hartsock said via email. "We still need to provide employees with alternatives to plastic, especially kitchen utensils like forks, knives and straws."

Set small, achievable goals. For example, instead of trying to end hunger in the community, start by collecting enough food for one family for a week. Little victories like that will keep employees motivated as the program grows and evolves.

Be adaptable.

Every corporate citizenship program needs a purpose. But it's also important to stay tuned into the changing needs of the company's community. For example, after a natural disaster, a team might want to adjust and address the new problems sure to arise.

"If you are a company with an established corporate citizenship program, a question you could ask yourself is how to take the next step in your program so that you are meeting those changing needs," Ken Lochiatto, chief executive officer of Schaumburg, Ill., service-based systems integrator Convergint Technologies, said by email.

"This year, we looked at what was happening with school violence, and since we are heavily involved in security, we decided to expand our efforts to help underserved schools amp up their security systems," Lochiatto added.

Related: 7 Ways to Make Your Business More Socially Conscious

So, do as his company does: Stay up-to-date with what's going on in your community by reaching out to local charities. Create relationships with the Red Cross, a soup kitchen or other organizations.

Let them know your company stands ready to step in when help is needed. Even if this just means providing a list of employees as on-call volunteers, your team members will witness first-hand how their leaders are pitching in the company's resources to meet the needs of the community.

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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