COMMUNITY RELATIONS BALANCES CORPORATE AND SOCIAL GOALS


Lean corporations increasingly are taking a more strategic look at their community relations programs. More and more, they are basing their support on the potential to have a measurable impact, and on the benefits that the corporation will derive. With corporate resources scarce--and social needs growing due to government cutbacks--corporations also are bracing for increased demand for corporate contributions. Some companies are becoming more selective about their spending, and are concentrating their money and volunteer resources on fewer programs, on which they believe they can have a greater impact. Due to lean resources, "we are more focused about the projects we undertake," said Sharon Foltz, community relations director at Tucson Electric Power Co. [TEP], Tucson, Ariz. As at many other corporations, there is an increased emphasis on measuring the results of community support at Texas Instruments Inc. [TXN]. Rather than broadly supporting community efforts that are judged to be worthwhile, the company has taken an "engineering outlook" to measure the success of its targeted efforts, said Gail Chandler, a media relations executive at the Dallas-based company. Another trend in community relations is the use of employee volunteer programs as a staff training tool. According to Foltz, a number of companies are using their employee community volunteer programs as part of employee training programs to build management and team skills. "In retail, banking, entertainment, there is a trend for human resources and volunteer management to work more closely," said the executive, who is on the board of the Points of Light Council of Volunteers. Texas Instruments uses its community relations activities as a way to strengthen links between employees. "We have a strong system of employee grassroots initiatives. There are more than 20 different groups that are highly involved in [community] activities," said TI's Chandler. "TI has a strong teaming culture. We do lots of things working together" in the community, she said. From his studies, Craig Smith of philanthropic consulting organization Corporate Citizen, Seattle, said that finding programs on which community relations and human resources departments can cooperate can be difficult. One reason is that "the community relations people would really like to get a hold of the human resources budgets, and vice versa." Impact of Welfare Reform Corporations that actively support social welfare agencies through their community relations programs are expecting increased demand for their resources as a result of welfare reform measures recently passed at the federal and state level. Foltz predicts that businesses and church groups will have to increase dramatically their community support to make up for the drop in government welfare spending. "We won't let children live on the sidewalk or go hungry in our community," she said. (Corporate Citizen, 206/329-0422; TI, 972/995-2984, Tucson Electric, 520/884-3740)

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