Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Community Involvement: Do Good and Do Well

Our Community Involvement and Professional Services Roundtable was based on the premise that community service is not only a good thing to do but that it also is a great tool for professional services client development. We are reminded of the concept of "Enlightened Self-Interest" meaning that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own interests. Especially in professional services we must build our personal brand alongside that of our firm and that community involvement is a great way to enhance our professional positioning and to display our competence in a non-commercial environment.

Benefits of community involvement
1. Impact - Do something good for the community and to the benefit of others.
2. Learning - Broaden perspective and become more effective in your current role.
3. Connect - Meet people from varied backgrounds, experiences & perspectives.
4. Cause Marketing - Generate positive public relations for your firm just by being present and affiliated with a cause that matters to your Firm’s client base.
5. Build Firm-wide spirit - Reinforce a positive caring culture by supporting or encouraging community involvement in groups or teams of professionals.
6. Recruit - Increase your Firm’s attractiveness in recruiting millennials & gen-Xers.
7. Reputation Management - Enhance your personal brand and professional. Provide a reference point as to the quality of your character.
8. Demonstrate your Difference – Allow others in the community to witness first hand your talent in your chosen field.

Getting more out of community involvement
1. Passion - Be passionate about the cause. If you are not, get out or don’t say yes. Make sure it is an organization that can keep you motivated and that will value your expertise. Working actively to help non-profit organizations demands too much energy to be involved with something that doesn’t excite you.
2. Make a difference – Do proper research on the not-for-profit before getting involved to ensure you can make a difference and, at the same time, can demonstrate your professional difference. Can you work with the Executive Director and staff and do they welcome input for lay leaders?
3. Be available - Your time is at least as important as your money. Most not-for-profits lack solid financial, marketing, human resources and operations skills. They are in the business of providing social services to a diverse population. Your special talents can make a huge difference to an organization. Involvement may also enable you to build or exercise functional skills that you hadn’t otherwise developed.
4. Good people - Be a part of an organization that is filled with people you enjoy being with. Make sure the staff and volunteers and you share common values. Pick an environment that will be filled with learning opportunities. It would also be nice, but not mandatory, if some people on the board have the ability to refer you to others who might need your services.
5. Show - don’t tell - Volunteer for assignments or leadership roles that will give you the opportunity to show people first hand the value you provide to your clients.
6. No-selling zone - Be respectful of the access the position may give you and do not use this forum as a selling zone. Focus on building relationships and learning about needs. Be generous with suggestions and ideas if appropriate. Let them ask you for help if they see potential value…which will be likely if they see your value and don’t feel you’re trying to sell them something.
7. Don’t advertise, but don’t keep your professional life a secret either. Make sure your fellow board members know what you do and what makes you special. Find creative ways to demonstrate what you do by asking the right questions and visibly applying your expertise on behalf of the organization. Take board members to lunch and get to know them personally as well as professionally. Let them know what you do and how you help your clients succeed. And leave it at that. If they want more information or want to learn more, they’ll ask. Then tell them. But, let them lead you…don’t lead them.
8. Mentor - Create opportunities for younger people in your firm to get involved in community service. Be a role model and a mentor. Communicate your involvement. Encourage them to get involved. Help them connect with organizations. Celebrate their successes.
9. Long Term – Community involvement is about making a long-term commitment to building relationships. It is about meeting interesting people. It is about building trusting relationships. Professional services marketing is a marathon not a sprint and that a marketing approach including community service requires a long-term horizon because such involvement demands patience to pay off.

How to Get Involved
Our panelists shared excellent suggestions for finding a non-profit and getting started.

Identify Boards of Interest

Two online tools were suggested as resources to find non-profits that may be of interest:
1. www.guidestar.org – Register for this and get access to some very useful tools including access to not-for-profit organization’s financial records which usually include Board member names. Pay $30/month and get access to a lot more.
2. http://www.melissadata.com/lookups/np.asp - Type in your zip code and find out what not-for-profits are in your neighborhood and check out their annual budget.

Get Help
Our panelists suggested several other organizations that actively help match executives and professionals with not-for-profits. Some of those mentioned include:
• Atlanta Women’s Foundation has a Board Training program called Women on Board - http://www.atlantawomen.org/programs/board.asp
• Metro Atlanta Corporate Volunteers Council - http://www.macvc.org/mc/page.do
• Georgia Center for Non-Profits - http://www.gcn.org/
• Check out the bylaws and make sure you understand whether you will be assuming and "advisory" role and/or a "fiduciary" one.

Join a Committee
You don’t have to be on the Board of Directors to make an impact and realize benefits from community involvement – but you do have to be an active participant. Another way to accomplish this is to join a committee of the organization and demonstrate your value that way. Often, committee involvement can lead to a Board position.

Open Your Schedule and Your Wallet
Increasingly, not-for-profit Boards are asking their Directors to sign a letter of commitment to the organization which may specify responsibilities and, even, financial commitment levels.

No comments: