Investment in and outreach to the community can be much more than just feeling good about helping others. If giving back flows creatively from the values of your company, it will help retain your best employees, recruit new ones and integrate your company as part of the community.

The question becomes not only, “Is it worth more than the good feelings giving back brings?” but also, “How does my company build—or improve—our strategy for investing in the community?”

What Employees Want Today’s employees are looking at a bigger picture of their employer, asking more than just what their compensation will be. Employees want to make a difference; they want to see a culture that is about people, not just profit. Employees are asking whether decisions are driven only by the bottom line or if they also emerge from a concern for people. The question isn’t people or profits, but which is given priority.

As the economy picks up, there will be a scramble to snap up the talent that has been laid off, as well as to secure the best of the new talent entering the marketplace. The core values of a company will be key not only in retaining existing employees but also recruiting new ones.

What distinguishes you as an employer? Is your company the kind of place where motivated, community-minded people of integrity are drawn to work? The reality is that the individuals who comprise a company are as great as the whole and have a direct bearing on the work that you win. How you choose to be involved in the community—locally or globally—can make a significant difference in the quality of people you attract and retain.

Bob Roby

Being a Community Member With the benefit to your company in mind, the next question is whether the company culture, driven by your company values, is aligned your with business goals, strategies and direction. If this alignment—and the necessary continual adjustments—remains a priority, giving back will be a good business decision. It will not necessarily be easy, but it will not be some forced overlay.

For community outreach to be good business, it has to come from the core values of a business, not just be something added on to look good to others. The reality is, if you are giving back for the primary purpose of networking, or to look good, people will notice. The problem is, they likely won’t notice your giving, but rather, your desire to look good. It’s a strategy that can, and has, backfired. It just should not be your primary motivation.

Getting Started The three ways to give back to a community—whether inside the company or out, locally or globally—is with time, talent and treasure. As you plan your giving, ask: How is this an expression of our company values? Do our plans for giving back have both structure and flexibility? How can they build community within our company as well as outside? Is there room for employee initiatives as well? How can we maximize our giving?

Consider a project superintendent who builds a school, then raises $5,000 with his subcontractors to jump-start their activity budget. Or the inner-city tutoring center that was remodeled using donated and recycled materials, using laborers ranging from the company president to subcontractors.

Other possibilities: The high school intern actually building a school in his district. Judging a statewide carpentry contest at a vo-tech school. Building a school in Uganda. Renovating a university building. Recycling materials from a stadium demolition and donating the money to the school. Passing the hat to help provide for the family of a foreman who rolled his truck on the way to work.

Today, our world expects more from organizations. It’s not enough to simply be “business successful.” We need to matter. Giving back to the community is about being part of the community: if the community is paying us, it’s our responsibility to invest ourselves there. After all, we’re part of it too.

Bob Roby serves as the Saunders’ director of organizational development and spearheads the firm’s recruiting and retention efforts. Roby is also responsible for career development, training and pathing for Saunders Construction’s 500 employees. Amy Malskeit, a writer and instructional designer, also collaborated on this column.