Guest Opinion: A win for companies, a win for communities

Scan the pages of this issue and it’s easy to see that a number of Clark County businesses are making their philanthropic mark by investing time, money and human capital into our great community.

These charitable acts are defined as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which loosely states that businesses investing in the community also invest in their bottom line. For many organizations, CSR initiatives are key public relations tools, but the reality is that the most effective CSR doesn’t focus on image-building as the end goal.

Well-designed CSR evolves from the same processes that dictate other core business decisions – strategic planning. Through this paradigm CSR becomes more than a budgetary constraint or charitable act, and allows companies to develop new opportunities and strengths.

Thus, companies that approach CSR strategically don’t only do good deeds; they generate healthy returns along the way. The economic incentives range from employee recruitment, retention and satisfaction, to positive consumer attitudes and loyalty.

CSR isn’t a new business concept. It is a long-standing tradition that has supported American communities since Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon and Guggenheim started doing good deeds more than 120 years ago. However, what is different is the modern business environment, which has made CSR more complex and indispensable.

According to Michael E. Porter, the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at the Harvard Business School, corporate success and social welfare are interdependent. Businesses require a healthy, educated workforce, sustainable resources and an effective government. Meanwhile, society needs profitable and competitive businesses to create jobs, wealth, tax revenues and opportunities for philanthropy.

Thus, executives and owners must acknowledge CSR as an opportunity to create shared value. By honing in on the interdependence between economic and social development, businesses will inevitably create a favorable image – built in accordance to their organizational goals, values and mission. In this light, corporate social responsibility becomes an impactful strategy, rather than an industry buzzword.

Sarah NevueLocally, through their nConnect NW program, nLight has used this approach to increase the competency and availability of human resources, promote higher education and engage current professionals. The program assigns local professionals to mentor high school students pursuing advanced placement coursework. In doing so, nConnect NW not only helps students with rigorous coursework, but also increases their chance of success in college-level math, science and engineering courses – the same ones nLight depends on for educating their skilled workers.

This example highlights the shared value that businesses can create through philanthropy, and subscribing to this CSR philosophy can create competitive advantages. Finding the way to this shared value through strategic planning is sometimes difficult, but finding the right vehicle to intersect charitable initiatives with business operations can be even harder.

There are some resources to help businesses along the way. The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington acts as a navigator for public and private sector organizations in search of the proper tools for their CSR initiatives. Through our charitable solutions, we are able to establish customized scholarships and donor advised funds, promote executive-level charitable involvement, simplify grant making processes and help facilitate strategic CSR programs in general.

By harnessing strategic philanthropic partnerships, Southwest Washington will continue to grow for the betterment of its businesses and residents. That’s an investment that positions our entire community for success, and the Community Foundation is here to help.

Sarah Nevue is the vice president of development for the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington. You can reach her by calling 360.694.2550.

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