Today is Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Wilson County Businesses Benefit from Being Socially Responsible

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Any business of any size can support a local cause. It's as easy as providing simple employee engagement opportunities, such as volunteering. Robbie Quinn Photography

Companies of all sizes are developing initiatives focused on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices. At its best, CSR is a transparent initiative embedded within a business's culture that contributes to the overall welfare of the community. Many businesses - large and small - benefit from being socially responsible, providing overwhelming support that CSR programs are imperative to success.

Local non-profits like Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, which serves 46 counties across Middle and West Tennessee including Wilson, often work with companies to execute CSR initiatives, creating a mutually beneficial partnership. These initiatives are intended to make a positive impact on causes that matter to a business as well as its employees and the community. By partnering with a non-profit that is focused on an issue such as hunger relief, the outcome of CSR efforts are greater.

Hunger continues to be a national issue with the latest study released by the USDA showing 42.2 million Americans are suffering from food insecurity, meaning they do not have access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. Locally 13,560 Wilson Country residents, including 5,620 children, are struggling with hunger according to the 2016 Map the Meal Gap Study. The fact remains that hunger is a reality in our community, but local businesses are using CSR strategies to make a difference.

Hannah Pechan, director of the Nashville Social Enterprise Alliance, emphasizes that businesses that create "long-term, concrete [CSR] projects with a measurable impact" are mutually beneficial to both the business and the non-profit. The commitment to invest in one cause allows a non-profit to use its resources more efficiently and effectively, which leads to more stable communities, and in turn, improves area businesses. The benefits become cyclical - higher quality communities equal better business.

A good example of CSR is UnitedHealthcare's "Do Good. Live Well." program, an employee volunteer initiative aimed at preventing hunger and obesity.

"Second Harvest is grateful for UnitedHealthcare's efforts to create healthy communities and alleviate hunger across Middle Tennessee," said Jaynee Day, president and CEO of Second Harvest.

A healthier community not only contributes to the greater welfare of society but also reduces the costs of healthcare - a win-win situation. Through this partnership, both UnitedHealthcare and Second Harvest are able to ensure Tennesseans have access to fresh, nutritious food through Mobile Pantry distributions.

A Mobile Pantry is a large-scale one-day distribution that provides one to two weeks of groceries directly to individuals and families in need. UnitedHealthcare recently sponsored a Mobile Pantry at Immanuel Baptist Church, one of 21 Second Harvest Partner Agencies in Wilson County. That one-day distribution provided 25,232 pounds of food to 154 households, which added to the overall total. UnitedHealthcare has provided nearly 3 million pounds of healthy food to more than 33,000 households in Middle Tennessee since 2012.

In turn, a strong CSR program can help with retaining employees and recruiting new talent. Multiple studies have shown that employees take a company's CSR practices into consideration when evaluating employment - 79 percent, in fact, according to one study. The opportunity to participate in CSR programs allows for both professional and personal development, giving employees the chance to contribute to worthwhile causes.

Wilson Bank & Trust believes this too and was recently named a "2016 Top Workplace" by the The Tennessean.

"Our employees have helped us develop and maintain our culture," said Executive Vice President John McDearman. "They are proud of it, and because of it, most of those people who apply for a job with us understand this. We also try and hire people who understand the value of serving others, giving back to the communities they serve and being grateful and resourceful with the talents with which they have been blessed."

Wilson Bank & Trust has been a loyal sponsor of The Tennessean's Ms. Cheap's Penny Drive benefiting Second Harvest. Now in the eighth year, the Penny Drive has raised more than $300,000. As a main sponsor of the campaign, Wilson Bank & Trust employees have the opportunity to participate in the drive as well as encourage involvement from customers, providing an additional touch point beyond client services. This encourages more overall participation from both bank customers and the community at large.

"Not only does Wilson Bank & Trust contribute substantially to the drive, it serves as the catalyst and facilitator to get hundreds of other businesses and individuals involved in helping Second Harvest and their network 490 Partner Agencies provide food and other resources to those struggling with hunger in Wilson County and beyond" said Mary Hance, The Tennessean's Ms. Cheap.

In addition to creating a positive impact in the community and retaining or recruiting high-caliber employees, successful CSR initiatives often lead to more customers. Ninety percent of consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, given comparable price and quality. CSR creates positive conversations about a brand that can be highlighted in both traditional and non-traditional media as well as through word of mouth. More than 80 percent of consumers report that they would tell friends and family about a company's CSR efforts. These efforts will be noticed, ultimately, by all - community, industry and society at large.

Industries can also be known for their CSR. The local grocery industry has continued to make a greater impact on hunger in Middle Tennessee through various initiatives with Second Harvest, including Middle Tennessee's Table, a grocery rescue program that rescues more than 9 million pounds annually from grocery stores in communities throughout the organization's service area.

Grocers are also engaging their customers through cause marketing campaigns that support local hunger relief efforts. This November, Kroger and Publix stores in Wilson County are giving customers the opportunity to add a donation to Second Harvest at checkout. Funds raised from both grocers will be used to provide much-needed food to families in need during the holiday season.

Food Lion will be offering an additional opportunity, Food Lion Feeds, for customers to purchase and donate a specially-marked "Holidays Without Hunger" food box for $5 through Dec. 21. The food boxes will then be distributed to families in need through Second Harvest's Partner Agencies just in time for the holidays. While each grocer promotes their unique effort to fight hunger, the real winners are those who will ultimately be on the receiving end this holiday season.

These CSR efforts are just a few examples of the great works being done by local businesses to better the community. These valuable partnerships bring greater awareness to the issue of hunger in Wilson County and Middle Tennessee through targeted outreach and increased visibility while ensuring more food is distributed to those in need. Companies of all types and sizes can take part in these efforts and reap the benefits of building a culture of corporate social responsibility.

To learn more about ways to engage your company in the fight against hunger, contact Melinda Judd, director of corporate engagement at Second Harvest, at (615) 367-1620 or visit secondharvestmidtn.org.

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