Great to Good: 7 Ways to Judge a Company

Dec 17, 2012

Today's blog post is reprinted with permission from CSRWire, originally published Dec. 10.

By Gregory Papajohn and Lee Ann Zondag

How do you continually strive to achieve greatness? Where do you look for drivers, tools and benchmarking? How do you turn your achievements, resources and leverage into impact?

The Civic 50 now offers exactly that opportunity. In partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), Points of Light and Bloomberg LP, these 50 companies represent the best companies that improve the quality of life in the communities they do business through the application of time, talent and resources.  

The selection: The S&P 500 listed firms were surveyed for civic engagement programs against seven critical dimensions later analyzed by independent assessors. These dimensions included:

  • Measurement and strategy:What are the program structure and metrics?
  • Leadership: Is the C-suite involved?
  • Design: Are corporate departments participating in program activities and direction?
  • Community partnerships: Are companies acting as true partners to nonprofits and other companies?
  • Employee civic growth: Is the program influencing personal growth and engagement of employees?
  • Cause alignment: Do the core competencies and workforce skills of the business align with the supported causes?
  • Transparency: Is the company communicating its work to the public and sharing best practices?

But the The Civic 50 is not just another list.

We see it as a declaration of great brands; companies that can inspire and motivate those not currently on the list to join the ranks.

Community, Community, Community


Following the release of The Civic 50 we had the chance to catch up with Jackie Norris, executive director of the Points of Light Institute and Ilir Zherka, executive director of NCoC, co-collaborators in the new endeavor.

Our first question for the duo was one of ground reality: Why should anyone pay attention to The Civic 50 over any of the other rankings and lists that recognize companies for their civic (using this term loosely) efforts?

The response was a resounding one: Community.

Norris and Zherka both explained that The Civic 50 breaks new ground by focusing on how companies engage in their communities. “Often the conversation stops at environmental sustainability or human rights. Here we present you with the opportunity to tell your story in the community,” stated Norris. “To share the heart of who you are – the full complement of what your people do outside of their families for neighbors, communities, their government,” added Zherka.

We also believe that The Civic 50 provides a new place to communicate – not where you comply and hold yourself accountable to others’ standards (such as can be the case with sustainability indices) – what you proactively decide to do on-the-ground, in your town, and on your teams.

The Name Game

We next asked about the thought process and choice of the words “civic” and “engagement” to describe The Civic 50. "Don’t overthink it," they said. It was simple, really: they thought about what they woke up to do every day – engage people and passions to take action. And, voila!

The Big Three

Time, talent, and resources are the fundamental components of the survey – and comprise civic engagement – that truly capture the essence of the work The Civic 50 companies do in the space. Main findings:

  • Time: Between the 430,000 employees of IBM [NYSE: IBM], which took the top spot in the inaugural list, 3.2 million hours were spent volunteering in 2011.
  • Talent: More than two-thirds of the top 50 companies say they “frequently” or “always” use the professional skills of their workforce to address social issues and real community challenges.
  • Resources: The top five companies provided $1.5 billion in grant support to community organizations, 17.5 million volunteer hours (valued at over $375 million) and $150 million in matching donations.

“[The contributions of time, talent and resources] demonstrates that the best companies in America are deeply committed to strengthening their respective communities,” Zherka concluded.

So whether we reference Morgan Stanley’s [NYSE: MS] (No. 6) Volunteer Month or Citigroup’s [NYSE: C] (No. 2) Global Community Day, organized volunteer programs show that top companies encourage employees to give back to their communities through the use of time. Talent-based programs like Aetna’s [NYSEF: AET] (No. 4) research on the role of ethnic diversity to deliver the highest quality of healthcare and FedEx’s [NYSE: FDX] (No. 12) work to improve communities’ disaster response and recovery programs exemplify how company knowledge and skillsets can be applied to better communities and professions.

Lastly, partnerships with community organizations and employee gift matching programs like those of GE [NYSE: GE] (No. 9), McGraw-Hill [NYSE: MHP] (No. 8) and Campbell Soup [NYSE: CPB] (No. 7) show that top companies – and employees – are making financial investments to strengthen their communities.

Planning for the Quarter…  Century

Shifting base for a second, Jim Collins challenged attendees at this year’s World Business Forum to plan for the quarter century (read: not quarter as in three months, but quarter as in 25 years). Collins was emphasizing what we believe is integral to the whole purpose of the GolinHarris CHANGE team. We look up and down the short- and long-term (positive) impacts you, an institution, can – and should – have.

Zherka demands a similar approach for The Civic 50 applicants. We must look beyond the fiscal quarter, he challenged, asking future applicants to “exist to change behavior.”

For sure, companies listed – and those who applied – for The Civic 50 are looking to change behavior and influence a long-term positive impact. The top companies have even reached a point where their civic programs and use of time, talent and resources in communities are not seen as separate CSR entities, but rather an integral part of the brand identity. IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge is one such example, awarding 100 cities around the globe $50 million worth of IBM expertise to address topics from urban agriculture to public safety.

Campbell Soup, known for its soups and strong community work, prioritizes health and education where Campbell employees live and work by promoting access to nutritious meals and activity through the Nourishing Our Neighbors initiative. And General Electric, known for its innovative thinking, converts its belief that innovations can improve healthcare for more people into action by supporting community health centers around the globe.

It is endeavors like these that help everyone come to the same page and understand not only why companies must make investments and engage with their communities, but also the benefits these commitments have on communities, employees and companies. It’s interesting to note that a lot of the companies on The Civic 50 are household names and aspirational brands, often ranked on Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies and Best Companies to Work For lists.

fortune 500

Coincidence? We think not.  

Interested in knowing all of the companies that made the list? Meet “America’s most community-minded corporations” here.


Editor's Note: As Lee Ann and Gregory exemplify, The Civic 50 is the first comprehensive ranking of S&P 500 companies that best use their time, talent and resources to improve the quality of life in the communities where they do business. Beginning in January 2013, Jackie Norris, executive director of the Points of Light Corporate Institute, will launch a new blog series for CSRwire to go in depth into the seven dimensions and illustrate how these 50 companies are demonstrating best in class corporate citizenship practices. Stay tuned!