HR Professionals
and Community Engagement

Profession Benefits

There is a long history of community engagement within some professional groups. The most obvious is the legal profession and its hallmark of pro bono legal aid which is promoted at the Association level [1]. The accounting profession also deserves noteworthy mention. More recently other professional associations, like architecture, have created their own space for building social sector capacity through professional contributions [2].  The Human Resources (HR) function now has an unparalleled opportunity to simultaneously build a stronger professional brand through community engagement efforts as well as address organizational priorities in the human capital management space.

Aside from a few national/international brands, most non-profits (NPs) do not have articulated talent management strategies or dedicated HR expertise. Most available resources tend to concentrate on supporting operational practices such as developing job description templates and less on the benefits of strategic HR planning. In the absence of such planning, they are likely under-utilizing volunteer expertise. NPs that do have dedicated HR talent would be the first to confirm that aside from salary considerations, there is virtually no difference between employee engagement and volunteer engagement. The endgame in either type of organization setting is the same: strategically deploy talent to achieve a desired organization outcome.

Increased cross-sector HR dialogue can encourage intellectual capital transfer. It can also impact  the perceived gap in how HR contributions are valued across sectors. This perceived difference may partially explain some of the current variation in cross-sector compensation levels. The relationship of job worth and job value is a topic for another day though [3].

Employer Benefits

Beyond elevating the HR profession’s profile, cross-sector partnerships offer opportunities to address organizational priorities including:

  • Managing stakeholder risks

  • Addressing talent development priorities

These partnerships create broader organizational awareness of community groups and their perspectives on social issues which can inform organizational stewardship related to future customer base and market opportunities. Through this lens, it becomes easy to understand why a book retailer, for example, would support children literacy programs: in addition to helping create a more educated society, the retailer is also building their future customer base. These forms of community investment illustrate what Harvard authors Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer refer to as “shared value creation [4]. In addition to supporting a positive corporate citizenship profile, cross-sector partnerships offer a cost effective opportunity to address talent management needs including leadership development and building problem solving expertise.

What could partnerships look like?

Thinking of promoting a high potential to a leadership role? Send him/her and their potential direct reports on a Habitat for Humanity build. The build environment can offer additional insights regarding working relationship dynamics and personality traits to guide the organization’s talent management investment. Compare this opportunity cost to more conventional corporate team building programs.

Want to provide opportunities to build performance capabilities? Help employees source NPs in their communities that require technical expertise (e.g. Marketing, Communications, Finance, HR). Through the experience they will gain insights from applying their problem solving capabilities in different work contexts. The employer benefits through enhanced human capital assets.

Corporate commitment to community engagement is not a passing fad. Organizations are increasingly realizing the value of this business/community connection as a management tool for supporting longer term shareholder value. Increasingly Gen X/ Y employees are expecting their employers to have an active community engagement focus (e.g. structured HR programs) for enabling community impact. In the absence of these opportunities they are increasingly turning to intermediaries like Endeavour [5] and Jericho Roads Project [6] as a means of channeling their community engagement energy.  These intermediaries can complement HR’s role in developing cross-sector partnerships through their sector intelligence.

The HR profession is well positioned as the intermediary for integrating employer objectives, employee expectations and community needs. By rising to this challenge the HR function can create measurable returns on investment for these three key stakeholder groups and further elevate the profession’s status.

Written by Dave Nanderam, Ph.D., President of TapestryBuilder