Does Your Company Have a “Social License” to Operate?

The majority of us will drive a car at one point or another in our lifetime. This requires us to apply for and obtain a driver’s license.

Similarly, at some point during their existence, companies often decide to support the nonprofits in their community. Before jumping in to give back to the nonprofit sector, what if those companies had to apply for a “social license?” Let’s explore what that would look like:

    • Study the handbook. The first thing that most student drivers do is study the handbook. We have to understand road signs, follow safety rules and know what we shouldn’t be doing. What if companies did the same thing? By understanding the most pressing needs in the community, a company can understand what it needs to do to achieve the most beneficial and significant results. But companies need to know, as well, about what they should not do (such as, don’t have 125 volunteers “drop in” at a small nonprofit with 13 staff members who are unable to manage all of those volunteers!), in order that they will have a more positive experience following their initial venture into nonprofit community service.
    • Get to know the car. When a new driver gets behind the wheel, she takes the time to assess her surroundings. She learns what all the buttons do, adjusts the seats and the mirrors, and she ever-so-slowly takes her foot off the brake to allow the vehicle to move ahead. Companies should do the same thing with nonprofits. Once a company has identified a nonprofit with which it wants to work, they should meet with the organization a few times to see how their visions match up. They need to “assess” the needs, learn which “buttons” do the most good, make “adjustments” to fine-tune the program, as needed, and “slowly” let the program move forward.
    • Practice. Practice. Practice. A student driver will spent many hours behind the wheel of a car to ensure she passes the upcoming test. Companies can do their due diligence by reciting, “Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.” You need to set your expectations with your team about their level of involvement; discuss how they can use and leverage their individual and collective talents; and share your long-term vision. The better that you can prepare, communicate with, and engage your team, the more comfortable and enthusiastic they will be in embracing your community service projects.
    • Take the test. Taking the driver’s test is the equivalent of formally launching your community effort. Know that there might be some minor bumps along the way (I still remember not knowing the correct hand signals on my written test!), but take it in stride. With thorough and well planned preparation, you will have increased your chances of “passing your test” and attaining your desired goals.
    • Get Better With Time. I’m a much better driver than I was twenty years ago! Similarly, your company’s community efforts will improve over time – especially if you consistently step back to evaluate the progress you’ve made, revise your program as you learn from your “bumps in the road” and continue to work in partnership with your nonprofit partners.

And voila – your company has received a “social license” to operate! Keep up the good work!

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