Community Service in Down Economic Times: Good Corporate Citizenship Builds Priceless Goodwill

Article excerpt

The stress of economic hardship can cloud corporate priorities. As a result, corporate citizenship activities may suffer at a time when the help is most sorely needed. Accounting firms and other businesses may lose sight of the fact that these volunteer activities make a positive difference in the community at little cost while providing numerous benefits for employees. Good corporate citizenship also builds a cache of goodwill that can improve the overall health and future of a business.

Corporate-sponsored outreach events promote team spirit among employees, while developing personal and professional skills. Some companies even tie individual employee goals and objectives to participation in such events. Companies that support community volunteerism are also attractive to young hires, and their current employees are more likely to stay.

The JofA interviewed representatives from the CPA community (see sidebar, "The Participants") to learn more about the role corporate citizenship plays in their firms and companies. The following are excerpts from those interviews.

JofA: How do you define corporate citizenship? Why is it important?

Lori Colvin: Corporate citizenship is defined as part of the firm's core values, which includes "Firm first focus, honesty and integrity, open communication, respect, support of others, and volunteerism." It is important to embody these core values to create a work environment where people can be invested in the firm and attract new people to want to work with us.

Patricia Cochran: One of our core business philosophies is to give back to the communities in which we work. It is one of the reasons that we have high employee satisfaction.

Claudia Diaz: Our mission statement includes the comment that we have "a relentless commitment ... to the communities we live in and serve." We're a large regional firm specializing in small businesses. We take great pride in connecting in and building out our local communities. It's very much a concept of "sharing the wealth" externally as well as internally.

Stephen Rivera: Team-building exercises, in the form of volunteerism, help get folks out of their usual element, breaking down barriers by putting people in an equal environment where there is no rulebook. It is important for accountants to have relationships with each other on nonaccounting exercises, to network among themselves, to learn more about each other outside of reading the [accounting standards].

Victor Velazquez: A lot of organizations believe corporate citizenship needs to be a capital-intensive and distracting endeavor. They might be pleasantly surprised to find that if they throw out the challenge to better serve their community, their employees will rise to the cause and find ways to engage that don't cost money

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JofA: How do you identify the appropriate programs for your firm/company?

Cochran: We encourage our staff members to volunteer through a paid volunteer program that provides each employee with one paid day off for volunteering. We make corporate donations to those charities that VSP management serves in a substantial volunteer capacity, including a matching program for the personal donations that they make from their own resources.

Colvin: Our employees. For example, the idea for our green initiative program came from our younger professionals--we were one of the first firms to become Green Certified about three years ago.

Diana Ravenna: We look to Greater Philadelphia Cares, one of the most active nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Philadelphia area.

Rivera: Part of each employee's objectives is to create a team-building exercise outside of work. Many times, the employee comes to me with an idea and asks for help sponsoring. In addition, we also follow the company's credo to ensure that we select programs that support the communities we live and work in. …