speaker at the Business Community Engagement Collaborative event in May

Quartet of Community-Business Groups Hold Session on Community Engagement

The latest installment of the Business Community Engagement Collaborative – a series of workshops and panel discussions created by the Community Foundation of Richmond in 2021 and today sponsored by a broader coalition of civic and business groups including ChamberRVA and InUnison – took place on May 23 at the local offices of United Way, also a sponsor.

Megyn Robertson, the director of Capacity Initiatives at the Community Foundation, guided about two dozen attendees through a session called “The Power of Purpose: Exploring the Basics of Business Community Engagement” during which she covered why civic engagement is important (for both businesses and the community at large) and the history and evolution of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which has moved from a focus strictly on financial profits to broader metrics that measure impact on people and the planet.

Breakout sessions charged attendees with identifying the four components of CSR within their own organizations related to Marketplace, Workplace, Environment and Community. Jacqui Bauer with the Community Climate Collaborative shared how her organization provided no cost consulting to a local senior center that dramatically reduced the facility’s energy costs, an effort that put a check in the box in several CSR categories.

Robertson reviewed the dual benefits of CSR – the community benefits (e.g. increased capacity, cost savings, issue awareness and volunteer pool) and the business benefits (e.g. employee engagement, recruitment and retention, reputation and financial). And there are employee benefits as well, she noted, including broadening skills, building character and deriving personal benefits.

The session also covered employee volunteer programs, the various elements of financial and material support and the different kinds of effective community engagement programs. Robertson distributed materials, including a Community Action Guide worksheet, designed to help organizations get started on their community engagement journey.

A panel discussion delved deeper into the topics of the morning. Norman Way, vice president at Puritan Cleaners, described the company’s Coats for Kids program as well as its 100,000 Meals initiative.

“There are more people who are food challenged in our region than you’d ever imagine,” he said.

This year, Puritan collected a total of 124,000 meals to help feed families in need in partnership with the Salvation Army and FeedMore.

Panelist Fonda Lang, marketing and practice development director at Keiter CPAs, noted that the company has been making a concerted effort to give back to its home community for 45 years, a commitment that is built on employees’ authentic interests and not prescribed from the top down.

“When we listen to staff, it helps our people fulfill their potential and spreads the good work around,” she said. “We’re a sprinkler, not laser focused.”

Ashley Williams, founder of BareSOUL Yoga & Wellness, said that her company’s focus on community engagement starts with servant leadership, and that’s what drives social impact. “Social connectedness is what drives us as humans,” she said. The next BCEC session will be held on Aug. 28 with a focus on the Community Action guide.

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