Redefining Community

As a business, if you don’t seem as if you’re giving back to your local community, your customers will find a competitor that does.  I say “seem” because, as it should come to no surprise, companies are much more interested in what their public image is rather than a strong sense of compassion on behalf of the company’s owner(s).  You don’t believe me?  Try Googling “company community involvement”.  The result will be an infinite list of companies detailing each specific instance they’ve ever contributed to their community.  We come to expect this as common knowledge…If they give back to the community, they’re more compassionate, less of a wall street centered/soul sucking sort of company (alliteration really drives a point home).  But when Kathleen donates her time to The Childrens’ Hospital fund raiser, she doesn’t make a webpage detailing how many smiles she put on the faces of the less fortunate.  Sure, she might add it to a resume; more likely she’s already volunteered more times than you could fit on resume paper.  Well, why then, must a company demand some sort of public recognition for each dollar or hour donated?

I’m being somewhat sarcastically critical.  Of course a business is going to advertise their goodwill.  It would be an extreme sense of ineptitude if they didn’t.  This business is still, after all, a business…

I’m not here to argue the morality of advertising goodwill.  If a company wants to give money to a good cause, it makes little difference to me how benevolent their intent is.

Instead, I want to pose the question, “how effective is this?”

Look at our generation.  For the remaining hours that we weren’t in school, we’re being guided into youth soccer, baseball, and football, art classes, golf lessons, dance rehearsal, and/or private tutoring.  For the slightly less caffeinated parents, children would sit in front of their TVs.  For the low income  parents, they would do this because it was too dangerous to be outside. The idea of going out and just “playing” with whatever kids were within wandering distance, as our parents once did, is seen far less frequently.  I know it still happens, but for every neighborhood stray child, there are four debate team Davids.  I would try to provide some solid statistic that I found through Google here, but when searching terms about children playing and neighborhoods, you get bombarded with stories of pedophiles.  This was a nasty reminder of another major cause in the reduction of unsupervised outdoor activities.

The point is, the emphasis of being part of the community, is diminishing.  Communities are becoming defined less so based on proximity, and more based on common interest.  The cul-de-sac is being replaced by the tennis and racquetball court, the book club and  “Celebrity Fit Club“.

These facts alone should be enough of a red flag to a company that’s doling out big chunks of money to local causes – if publicized goodwill is the intent.  We now have a medium which disintegrates the meaning of local.  I am, of course, referring to Al Gore’s creation: the Internet.  Right now I can get streaming video coverage of soccer being played in places where, while  they’re eating dinner, I’m toasting Egos (the breakfast variety).  I can play Tiger Woods Golf versus someone wasting time in China, while I’m wasting time in San Diego.  I can video chat with a friend hiding from a blizzard in Wisconsin, while I’m trying to avoid adding to my sun burn.  Distance as an obstacle is a thing of the past.  The reliance upon local communities is no longer a necessity, it is now a choice; and it’s being chosen less often.

Does this mean that it’s no longer important for Wal-Mart to put money into a worthwhile cause- aside from some old white guy’s bank account?  Of course not.  People still care about these issues.  People should and most likely always will.  However, when Macy’s donates money to Greenview Park, and not until you later use a search engine to discover this park is only a few miles from your house, you have to wonder, what’s the point?  That’s why we’ll see more and more of the Targets donating to The Red Crosses and Salvation Armies of the world.  Your dollar spent in Portland goes toward rebuilding a tornado ravaged community in Ohio, because, now more so than ever, the displaced Ohio resident isn’t just a statistic, he’s a Madden ’10 opponent.

(Quick endnote: I apologize for the extremely boring topic. Business school has put a serious filter on my sense of “interesting”.  If you made it this far, leave your address in the comment field; we’ll get that check out in the mail in 3-5 business days.)