Retail stores are integral parts of the communities they serve, well beyond the product they sell. Through employment, staff volunteerism, donations to community organizations, and support of local businesses, a retailer adds vitality to the community and drives the local economy. In turn, strong community engagement programs can inspire employees, engage customers, and help retailers better understand and serve local needs.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Long before the phrase “corporate social responsibility” was coined, retailers were already giving back to the communities they served. For example, The Belk Foundation, started in 1928, has become a support system for education in the communities that Belk serves.
Today retailers lead many diverse programs tied to local community needs. Examples include:
- Educational commitments. By offering student scholarships and donating to local schools and community organizations, retailers support local educational systems. For example, in 2010 Staples continued supporting their long-term relationships with youth and educational organizations like Boys & Girls Club of America, Earth Force, and others.
- Training classes. Many retailers offer classes, from healthy eating and cooking to do-it-yourself home improvement. The Home Depot hosts Kids Workshops that 75 children attend on average per store; children learn to make objects that can be used in and around their homes or communities.
- In-need programs. Retailers leverage their core competencies to serve communities in need. jcpenney has a long-standing tradition of meeting community needs through its afterschool program support and partnerships with the Boys & Girls Club of America and National 4-H. This year jcpenney reached $100 million in donations.
- Cause marketing connects brands or products to a social cause, often by donating a certain percentage of proceeds to nonprofits supporting that cause.
- Local community giving. By providing small grants to local community organizations, retailers can help meet specific community needs, often in the areas in which they operate.
- Philanthropic support of national or international charities such as St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital or the American Red Cross. Many retailers will select specific national causes and provide annual donations, and a number of retailers coordinate their own philanthropic foundations such as Whole Foods’s Whole Planet Foundation, which aims to fight poverty through microlending in developing countries.
- Product donation is often a component of retail giving programs. Through its Framing Hope product donation program, The Home Depot diverts excess inventory from landfills and into the homes and lives of thousands of people across the country each year.
- Employee volunteerism. Employee volunteer opportunities can range from participating in local events of employees’ choice to disaster relief and cleanup efforts. In 2011, nearly 2.3 million volunteer hours were provided to work on trails, in parks, and along waterways on conservation projects with REI-funded nonprofits.
- Buying locally. Investing in local businesses provides long-term community benefits and ensures an evergreen customer base. For example, some retailers have helped local entrepreneurs expand their recycling and composting programs, which in turn expands local employment and provides environmentally sustainable infrastructure.
- Disaster relief. When disasters happen, retailers respond with financial and logistical support. Lowe’s has a long-standing history of donating time and money to disaster relief efforts. In 2010, through store teams, Lowe’s Heroes associates participated in more than 1,300 projects, and Lowe’s contributed more than $1.3 million in materials.
Some companies tie their philanthropic activities directly to their sustainability objectives. Gap Inc., whose sustainability goals include the improvement of working conditions in the garment supply chain, created a Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (PACE) program to help female garment workers gain the technical and social skills they need to succeed. So far, more than 5,000 women have been trained through the PACE program.
A LOOK INTO THE FUTURE
Philanthropy and volunteerism will always be core parts of the retail industry. Both monetary and in-kind donations help inspire employees, solidify community bonds, and strengthen national brands.
In addition, retailers will continue to go beyond traditional philanthropy, by making strategic investments to ensure that their communities thrive and by using their core competencies to provide essential services to the underserved. The strongest programs will directly align their philanthropic programs with their sustainability and business objectives.
Lastly, efforts to invest in local business will continue and expand. Investing in a vibrant community economy results in more resilient supply chains, a robust consumer base, and a decrease in the ecological footprint of retail operations.
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