Contributing to and participating with local community groups is more than just philanthropy. Done right, it can benefit your business as well.

Australians have a wide and diverse range of interests, and community groups are no exception: the interests of residents in your local area are likely to extend well beyond just the football club and the chamber of commerce.

There are about 600,000 community groups in Australia.  The majority operate "under the radar" at the local level. There are sports groups from archery to athletics, croquet to cycling, karate to kite surfing, and swimming to scuba diving. Your local park may even play host to Quidditch® games! There are creative groups such as historical societies and photography clubs, and clubs for lovers of chess, bridge or canasta. Then there are collections or coalitions of community crusaders covering specific local concerns like employment, education, homelessness, the environment and heritage, or broader social issues such as health, poverty, human rights, single parenting and LGBTI advocacy. 

There are common threads that run through the members of these groups: they are passionate about their interests and they have their finger on the pulse of the community. They are also often in contact with locals beyond the members of their group.

Some theory

Business involvement in social issues has a long history, albeit often focussed in research on the big end of town. Large organisations talk Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and, in some cases, report a triple bottom line that includes social and environmental factors, in addition to profit. These social and environmental factors include activities beyond those that companies are legally obliged to carry out.

While CSR was once viewed as philanthropy - an expense to the business - academics have long since moved beyond such a simple measure. 

Over time various benefits have been attributed to CSR . It is promoted as being a degree of insurance, reducing the impact or likelihood of social or political activism. CSR is also put forward as a driver of value including through planning in anticipation of social trends, as well as visibility to stakeholders. It is touted as a more sustainable system than capitalism on its own, via taking into account environmental and social needs, as well as economic. 

Business boffins Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer put it well back in the December 2006 edition of Harvard Business Review when they wrote: "CSR can be much more than a cost, a constraint, or a charitable deed - it can be a source of opportunity, innovation, and competitive advantage."  

Inspiring. Certainly. Handy for your next philosophy discussion at the local wine bar. Absolutely. But how does it help you sell more property? Read on.

The right groups for you

Agents who have been present in a local community for some time will likely be able to identify many local groups already or get contacts for others through the council. Greater involvement alone with community organisations could be enough to alert you to opportunities to help with social issues.  
As Porter and Kramer put it in HBR, "No business can solve all of society's problems or bear the cost of doing so. Instead, each business must select issues that intersect with its particular business."iii

There are many worthy causes. It is important however to choose one where shared value can be created, in other words where there is both community and business benefit.iii

When determining the groups to work with, it's vital to take a position of sincere support for the goals of the group, particularly where those goals are supported by and benefit all the local community, not just the members of the group. Genuine support and sincerity are critical: you don't want your involvement viewed as driven purely by self-interest and lacking integrity. 

It's probably best to avoid groups that focus on political issues unless the community is united one way or another. While the importance of many of these issues to the local community should not be underestimated, they can be polarising. Issues that garner extremely strong feelings on both sides of an argument should certainly be treated with caution: there is likely going to very little benefit to either the community or your business entering the fray.

You may even decide that the best course of action is to set up your own group. It's an approach many take: the McGrath Foundation®, the Amy Gillett Foundation Pty Ltd® and Dymocks Children's Charities® are examples. One group operating in the property sector is the Property Industry Foundation®. It was formed in 1996 by leaders in the property and construction industry to make a difference to the problem of youth homelessness.

Of course, it's difficult to please everyone, even in the most uncontentious of areas. This makes it important to be able to positively articulate why you are helping a community organisation and how your actions can help the community as a whole. If you've thought the issue through before you are confronted by detractors, it will make doing so that much easier.

The approach

Porter and Kramer suggest that the opportunities for shared value are in seeking out initiatives which deliver large and distinctive social and business benefits.iii

Penrith's Mooney Real Estate® embarked on one such initiative. In a campaign to financially assist local schools in response to community concern over a lack of air conditioned classrooms, they are helping address a major challenge to learning in schools in Sydney's west. The agency turned the problem into a fun competition, complete with a tastefully branded marketing pack to attract schools to come forward for assistance.  The new agency was already making a name for itself with mother's groups on social media, a group already invested in making a difference in local schools. The initiative has reinforced that position by making a positive difference in the community, has driven traffic to the agency’s website and cold calling has been avoided. Importantly - with the plan to make the competition an annual event - the community is invested in the success of the new agency for its own benefit. 

Intentions are always scrutinised closely when a business comes knocking offering to help out of the blue. Approach community groups you can relate to and are genuinely interested in with an open mind. Acceptance will come through hard work and dedication. Long term rewards including trust and respect are gained when locals know you have the good of the community in mind.

Once you have identified what community groups are in your area and where you would best slot in, take stock of your free time, finances available and commitments throughout the coming year. If you can be clear from the get-go as to what you are able to offer the group, you will get started on the right foot. 
Maurice Maroon, Principal of Belle Property Pty Ltd® Hurstville states, "the best way to attract ideal clients is through building new relationships, maintaining existing relationships, building a great office culture and getting involved in the community."   

But remember, this is a holistic approach, not the sole driver of buyers and sellers to your business. Nurture your new relationships and approach them with patience. Not having the time to be out of the office isn't a valid excuse when that time is spent creating new leads.

Although it's important to work with a community group you can relate to, don't isolate other groups or make them feel like they have been left out. Show interest in the community as a whole and if you have a great idea for a new initiative that could involve multiple groups, talk to them. 

What to avoid

  • Don't bite off more than you can chew. Groups need long term commitments and ongoing help. Don't lift the spirits of the group with promises you can't keep or disappear after a few months. 
  •  Allianz Stadium, Qudos Bank Arena, SunCorp Stadium are great examples of established partnerships which have led to naming rights. But, just like the MCG, don't expect to get naming rights to a community group! Take advantage of branding opportunities once your role within the group has been cemented and is respected.
  • Don't be too pushy and leave your ego out of it. The issues many community groups may be facing can be deep rooted and not easily solved. Take your time to respectfully understand the problems, don't act like you are their saviour, and work as part of the team. 
  • Politics exists in even the mildest groups. Navigate the landscape carefully by staying above it. 
  • Don't treat a community group as another target market. This is not about advertising or public relations, it's about delivering shared value and positive outcomes.

The local community is full of inspiration and opportunities to grow your business. Getting involved with community groups can be win-win. In time, with a long-term engagement focussed on shared results, your agency will gain trusted supporters who will drive buyers and sellers to you time and time again. 

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