Getting involved in volunteer efforts may help you to find customers and grow a business with deep roots in the community, which may be integral to its long-term success.
When my friends and I were starting up Virgin Records in the early 1970s, we backed a student advisory centre in London close to our headquarters. This may not have led directly to record sales, but our work there kept us in touch with our audience’s concerns in changing times.
Over the years, businesses in the Virgin Group have taken part in a number of local projects. Experience has taught us that during our Virgin Records days, we might also have looked at lending some of our resources to local school music programmes and other music-focused community groups.
- What ideas can you think of for your business?
- Are there groups in your community in need of support?
- Are there skills you could offer to teach?
- How would your team like to get involved?
Just a few hours a month can make a big difference in people’s lives and help with your company’s development.
This has been seen at companies other than Virgin. A well-known example is Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, a US-based ice cream company, which in its early years invested in its relationships in the local community. (When the company went public in 1984, the founders offered the people of their home-town Vermont priority when buying stock to reward them for their early support.) The company also advocated for good causes and donated 7,5% of annual pre-tax profits to community projects.
While the company became part of the multinational consumer goods company Unilever in 2000, it still retains its local connection, its mission and its reputation. In today’s global and fiercely competitive market, this makes the Ben & Jerry’s brand stand out from the crowd – a very valuable asset. Seeing this process at work can be a powerful experience.
On a recent trip to South Africa I visited Virgin Active, our health club business, and got an update on some of its local community activities. The team at our flagship club in Soweto focuses on helping people to live healthier, more productive lives.
Working with the government, they recently launched a youth development programme called Future Crew, which helps local high schools to get physical activity back on school curriculums.
We plan to pair up our other clubs with schools. Our Active staff is training teachers and pupils, and over time we’ll open relationships up to members.
Through the relationships you build by doing such work, your business will become a hub for the community, supporting and fostering the people around it. It will help you to build a stronger culture within your company, better relationships with your customers and staff, and ultimately a more successful business.
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