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Community involvement is an important topic that can have impacts on everything from a community’s graduation rates to the quality of healthcare. A definition of the term might go something like this:
Community involvement is meaningful, consistent participation in activities that support and improve upon social wellbeing. Community involvement examples include engaging with, volunteering for or donating to local schools, neighborhood associations, government, and/or nonprofit organizations.
Depending on whether you are trying to get involved as an individual or as a business, there are a few things to consider before diving in. Below is a closer look at the term, how to be effective at community involvement, and five good examples.
What are the Benefits of Community Involvement
Before deciding on how to get involved, it’s good to consider what types of benefits we can expect to see.
For individuals, the benefits of community involvement can include improved mental health, reduced stress, and increased longevity. For communities, citizen engagement can enhance decision-making and has been shown to improve public health, education, safety, and environmental management.
Individuals who engage with their communities can increase their overall wellbeing in many ways. Studies have shown, for example, that volunteering can have positive impacts on depression and life satisfaction. One study from the University of Buffalo even demonstrated a link between community involvement and decreased levels of stress leading to a lower risk of premature death.
Individual involvement has significant impacts on the community as a whole too, of course. Many studies have revealed a connection between citizen participation in local affairs and more effective decision-making in the community.
For instance, research out of the University of North Carolina has shown that doctors who incorporate a community perspective provide better care and improve overall public health. Similarly, one review of a Health Extension Program in Ethiopia demonstrated that community education programs can improve awareness of communicable diseases and change behaviors leading to better health outcomes.
Community involvement has also shown to improve public education. While more research is needed in this area, initial studies point to a link between higher test scores and engagement from local residents. One 2002 analysis found that academic success is more likely when (among other things) “adults with high standards for achievement guide students’ out-of-school activities.”
Research has also revealed that community involvement can improve confidence in public safety. One study published in EcoHealth, for instance, showed that people who participated in a community-based land management program reported better wellbeing in several areas including feeling safer in their local communities.
Community involvement has also been shown to improve outcomes in environmental management. For example, research looking at a conservation area in Nepal discovered that a community involvement program helped to educate and empower citizens and local institutions. These changes, in turn, led to more tree diversity and increased animal populations in the Annapurna Conservation Area.
Community Involvement in Business
Community involvement among businesses has been a growing phenomenon since at least the 1980s. Terminology and approaches have shifted over the decades, however.
Community involvement for businesses (or ‘corporate social responsibility’/‘corporate community involvement’) has been shown to boost employee morale, improve business, and increase brand recognition. While the impacts on the community are less understood, some evidence has shown positive outcomes.
A lot of research has gone into showing the impacts of community involvement on business performance and brand recognition – perhaps, to demonstrate to corporations why they should give back to their communities. However, measuring the impacts of these practices on communities themselves has proved difficult.
The benefits for businesses of getting involved with communities have long been reported. A 1999 edition of the Journal of Small Business Management, for example, featured a survey of 1,008 small business managers. The respondents reported that they perceived their business had more overall success after participating in community involvement programs.
Trends have also been pointing to increasing awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) among consumers worldwide. Some marketers have suggested that community involvement is no longer a nice bonus for companies, but a must to remain competitive in an increasingly socially conscious world.
For instance, in a 2015 study conducted by Cone Communications and Ebiquity showed that 91% of global consumers expect companies to address social and environmental issues. Consumers also indicated that they are just as likely to purchase from a company as they are to boycott it for its practices (89% compared to 90% respectively).
This new customer awareness is important for small businesses too as 80% of consumers reported they would buy from an unknown brand if the company had strong, ethical engagements with the community.
Community involvement also strengthens employer-employee relations and can help build a better work environment. A 2017 study conducted by UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch, demonstrated this point well. The research revealed that 75% of employees who volunteer through opportunities at work had more positive perceptions of their employer. Additionally, 93% of those who volunteered through work reported improved mood, 88% reported increased self-esteem, and 79% reported lower stress levels.
Business owners and employers should be mindful of their approaches to community involvement, though. Not all forms of involvement are beneficial and some researchers have noted that social corporate responsibility practices can have negative impacts if done carelessly.
However, businesses should not be dissuaded from community involvement. With a little bit of thought, relationship-building, and dialogue with community members, corporate engagement can be hugely beneficial for everyone. A great example comes from a study looking at Microsoft’s donation of software to communities in Nairobi, Kenya. The research showed that the donation correlated with a decrease in youth unemployment and an increase in access to higher education for youth.
Employers can breathe a sigh of relief too when they keep in mind that they are not alone in community giving. There is no shortage of nonprofit and charitable organizations that are already established in communities; partnering with these organizations has been a tried and true method of corporate giving for decades.
One of my favorite examples of a business-nonprofit partnership is between UPS, CARE (an international aid organization), and Aidmatrix (a tech company devoted to supporting aid delivery to conflict and disaster areas). Together UPS, CARE, Aidmatrix team up to provide disaster and humanitarian relief.
In the partnership, each brings something unique to the table. UPS does what it does best – logistics; CARE identifies needs and plans aid delivery; and, Aidmatrix provides management technologies designed to bring relief to conflict and disaster areas.
If you’re looking for more information on best practices for businesses, I’d suggest starting with Corporate Community Involvement: The Definitive Guide to Maximizing Your Business’ Societal Engagement. The text draws on examples from leaders in the field and is taught in some business classes.
Five Good Examples of Community Involvement
There are infinite ways to get involved in your community. To not limit your imagination, the examples below are general aspects of social wellbeing (as opposed to specific actions). These offer good starting points to find where you are best positioned to contribute.
Whether you’re an individual or business, thinking through the needs of your community and your unique qualities are the natural starting point for impactful community involvement.
1) Improve Public Health
Community involvement in public health is a growing area of interest for many. As pointed out above, health care professionals that have a community-centered perspective are better able to treat their patients. There are many advocates for health care professionals to effectively get involved in the communities they serve.
However, the burden should not just rest on those in the healthcare field alone. Public health is a community-wide responsibility and, since health care often starts with education, the field presents ample opportunities for individuals or businesses to lend support. Partnering with local health care professionals and policymakers to help improve local services or education programs could have significant benefits for communities.
2) Support Public Education
Getting involved in local public education is a good way to have long-lasting impacts on your community. As discussed above, evidence suggests that community involvement can improve academic success among students.
Readers will note that the research mentioned above (linked again here) suggested that the impact of community involvement boils down to providing students with good role models – not necessarily in aiding the learning process. So, don’t be intimidated about getting involved with local schools if you don’t remember Algebra; simple after-school sports programs or other constructive activities can be just as effectual as direct tutoring.
3) Enhance Environmental Management
Environmental management is another area proven to be enhanced through community involvement. Local governments and associations can be overwhelmed by the scale of environmental issues and lending volunteer services will likely be welcomed by policymakers and residents.
Research cited above (linked here again) showed a positive correlation between community involvement and local biodiversity. These types of interventions can have cascading impacts as improved environments can lead to better public health (often referred to as environmental health – a subfield of public health), local pride, and increases in tourism.
4) Reduce Homelessness & Poverty
Often when people hear the term community involvement, volunteering, or charity they associate these efforts with eradicating poverty and homelessness. And, with good reason as it’s a worthy cause and one where you can have visible impacts. However, caution is needed when approaching the issue of poverty eradication.
Volumes of literature have been dedicated to the subject because of how complicated the issue is at its core. That being said, policymakers and professionals often decry a lack of resources and more help is always needed.
A 2007 study for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, for instance, emphasized the need for a community-wide approach to addressing issues of homelessness and poverty. The research indicated that involvement in this area is usually most effective when efforts are directed at both alleviating current circumstances and addressing the root causes of the issue.
5) Foster the Arts
The arts can often be an overlooked area for involvement, but providing creative spaces to the community can also intersect with and improve other aspects of social wellbeing. Supporting the arts can be an effective way of supporting education.
A multi-year study of a “Learning Through Art” program by the Guggenheim Museum found that students who participated in the program were “more likely to plan, persist, be deliberate and thoughtful, approach difficulties with focus, and have greater knowledge of art materials.”
The arts are beneficial for the economy too; according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts added $804.2 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016. Giving back through the local arts scene, then, can help boost a community’s resilience and development.
Are you looking to get involved? Check out our post on social wellbeing for more important information about improving the quality of life for you and your community.