Making Your Corporate Citizenship Story Pop!

Tips & Tricks for Bringing Your Story to Life
Mar 16, 2011 4:45 PM ET

Innovation Conversations

Having spent my entire career in the private sector, I strongly believe companies have an important role to play in addressing social issues.  The private sector understands efficiency of markets and brings a sense of urgency to solving “problems.”  When directed the right way, corporate resources can have a real impact on social issues from the environment and education to health care and the arts.

This is why I so enjoyed attending the annual meeting of the Association of Corporate Contributors Professionals last week.  It was an intimate gathering of those who lead in-house corporate citizenship efforts.  These folks manage corporate philanthropic initiatives.  Great group of people who want to do good, but who also realize they need to demonstrate a return on their social investments.  Part of that ROI includes the publicity and good will they are able to generate among key stakeholders. 

While ALL of the companies that presented at the meeting were leaders in the field of Corporate Citizenship, some were able to present their stories more effectively than others.  My team advises clients all the time on how to communicate their citizenship stories. Here are my top 3 tips for making your citizenship story pop:

  1. Frame the problem. The most effective presenters framed the problem they were trying to address before they jumped into the solutions that their companies were providing.  By emotionally hooking your listener on the scope and nature of the problem, you are then able to “wow” them with your company’s response.  For example, Mike McDougall from Bausch & Lomb showed us pictures of adorable babies and explained that hundreds of thousands of babies are born with a cataract in one or both eyes and are severely vision impaired.  These kids require multiple surgeries over their lifetime to restore their sight.  Mike hooked me up front, and I was ready to hear about all the great work Bausch + Lomb has done with the Lions Clubs International Foundation through the Pediatric Cataract Initiative.  I don’t wear contacts, but I left with a positive impression of Bausch + Lomb!

  2.  Every good story has a bit of conflict.  Corporate types sometimes shy away from talking about conflict.  There is a tendency to want to show the perfect end product and not talk about any of the tensions that, inevitably, were part of the journey.  Perfect may be what you are striving for, but it makes for a pretty flat story.  The executive director from the ConAgra Foods Foundation shared her company’s Child Hunger Ends Here campaign.  She drew me into her story when she detailed the three-year back and forth between the corporate foundation and the various line heads in building the program.  Fascinating drama.  By the end of her tale, I was completely drawn in and 100% rooting for her and the new program.

  3.  Use numbers and data sparingly. There is nothing more boring than listening to someone tell their company’s citizenship story via a list of numbers: “We donated $10 million dollars to 5 NGOs; our United Way campaign raised $14 million dollars; our employees provided 84 gazillion hours in service hours last year, and that’s up a 52% from five years ago.”  Yawn.  You have completely lost me, because you have not told me a story. I understand that the business world requires deep analysis of data to support decisions, so it’s absolutely important to track this data.  I am not advocating abandoning numbers entirely, just use them sparingly to make a point and support your overall story.  The numbers alone are not your story; they are just numbers! 


It is human nature to want credit for the good work you do and companies are no different.  Corporations absolutely should get credit for their philanthropic efforts, but this recognition will only come to them if they package their stories in a compelling manner.  Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help!