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An Engaged Board and a CSR Champion are Key to Success

By John Jefkins

Driving member engagement and delivering value are critical to the success and growth of any association. This likely includes training and networking initiatives, communicating pertinent information and stimulating discussion and collaboration in addressing industry issues and challenges.

Member satisfaction is the driver for renewals, referrals and attracting new participants - especially in challenging economic times.  With shrinking budgets and growing debt resulting in reduced disposable income and lower marketing budgets, associations must ensure their value proposition is constantly evolving.

At Electro-Federation Canada (EFC), one key strategic pillar is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). EFC has two successful CSR programs that increase engagement at all levels within member organizations.  EFC is a national, not-for-profit industry association, representing over 250 companies that manufacture, distribute and service electrical and electronics products in Canada; contributing over $10B to the Canadian economy and employing over 40,000 workers in more than 1,200 facilities across the country.

The EFC Scholarship Program, since its inception in 1994, has provided $ 1 million to fund the next-generation workforce who are studying in universities and colleges. Growth occurs each year. In 2015, the program has achieved a record $120,000 in funding across fifty-two scholarships. This program is one of the largest in Canada. Parallel to this CSR program, is the support our industry provides its charity of choice, Canadian Feed the Children. Branded “Power2Feed”, our members have raised $1.2 million since 2008.

Why EFC Invests in Corporate Social Responsibility

EFC determined corporate social responsibility (CSR) to be of key importance to its member companies. In today’s business climate, many organizations have CSR embedded in their strategic plans. They partner with charities to build a positive brand. They demonstrate to the next generation of workers, defined as millennials, CSR initiatives that are key to their interest in choosing their future work environment.

With EFC’s membership comprised of all sizes of electrical manufacturers and distributors, the EFC CSR initiatives benefit all. The mid-sized to smaller companies do not have the resources, budgets or expertise to create their own CSR programs, while we also complement those larger ones with their established programs. Combining strong, well-known member brands under the EFC brand, it is a powerful message for our association to offer these programs.

Our industry has defined talent as key priority. Many baby-boomers are approaching retirement and we require the next generation of workers to enter our workforce. The electrical industry can be seen by youth as skewed towards engineers and electricians. Although these are key required positions, there are also opportunities in business, marketing, communications, sales, logistics, finance, product management, to name a few. Our industry is ripe with innovation in lighting, electric vehicles, intelligent buildings. Youth are not always aware of the industry as a viable career choice, so the Scholarship and Power2Feed initiatives are a platform to convey this message.

Building a Successful Program

There are many lessons learned and key steps in creating successful CSR programs. An association must have engagement from senior levels of its member organizations to drive these initiatives to gain support and avoid becoming short promotions. It is not advisable for an association to create the program in isolation from its members and it is important to develop an offering that aligns with its mission and purpose.

Although both the Scholarship and Power2Feed initiatives are completely different(from supporting and educating students to feeding children), the mechanics to build both are similar.

Funding of the scholarship program comes from our Annual Federation Cup Golf Tournament. 100% of the funds for the scholarship go to the student. The Power2Feed program requires just staff time as all initiatives are electronic and are also supported by member staff time.

Tips to Attain the Building of a Successful CSR Program

It is essential to engage the association Board and have a champion for your organization to interact in a CSR Program. At EFC, our 3- year strategic plan includes these programs and supports other areas of the plan such as brand-building and providing value for members.

The following are the key areas to achieving success in our programs:

1.      Find an Organization/Member Passionate About a Cause

A key part EFC’s structure is the formation of Committees on topics pertinent to our industry. EFC has over 30 committees where members meet on a regular basis on many industry topics. Both the Scholarship and Power2Feed follow this committee structure and are comprised of members interested in these causes. An EFC staff member participates and works closely with a Chair nominated by the each committee in building and executing the programs.

2.      Communicate Salient Benefits for Organization Engagement

For members to provide time and leadership there must be a tangible benefit for their organizations. These CSR programs tie into members’ requirements for attracting new talent to our industry, building a positive environment for their employees, providing content for social media in both external communications and in internal newsletters/intranets and even team-building in local fundraising programs. On the Scholarship, many of our members invite the student recipients for a cheque presentation, tour of their company, meeting with senior executives and, in some cases, offer employment.

3.      Complements Business Sales and Networking

In 2014, several EFC members from different organizations banded together to cycle from Toronto to Montreal for the Annual EFC Conference and raised over $40,000 for Power2Feed. Similarly, in 2010, a team developed a cookbook of recipes provided by members that raised over $100,000. On the Scholarship program, participation is driven by senior-level executives contacting their peers. All this provides opportunity for increased networking and leveraging their corporate networks to benefit their organizations. It also provides healthy competition between companies.

4.      Generates Content and Expands Your Association’s Message

CSR increases traffic to your website and attracts new visitors. The EFC Website traffic attracts 60% new visitors each month that resulted in a 32% increase in page views – 180,000 views in 2014 vs, 136,000 in 2013. The weekly EFC newsletter achieves 30% open and 25%+ click-through rates. A key component to this growth is the Scholarship offering. It also garners exposure in other areas such as all Canadian universities and colleges where materials are provided to increase awareness of EFC, the electrical industry and members. EFC has also engaged Electrical Business, Electrical Line, Kerrwil Publications and yconic that are key publications and partners in our sector to promote the programs and increase member exposure.

Thinking Outside-of-The Box

“Change before you have to” is a quote by Jack Welch former leader at General Electric. Associations must consider new ways to provide value to members that benefit both their organization, members and CSR partners. Appoint a senior leader in your organization to take on this role to develop a CSR program that aligns with your vision and purpose. Engage Board members in the process and consider surveying other key leaders. Ensure it is as a part of your strategic plan.

At EFC, our CSR initiatives are reviewed at Board meetings as a part of the association’s strategic plan. There are always challenges with change and this ensures the programs are not short-term, that they relevant and changes are implemented when necessary.