No man (or company) is an island, as the poem says. As an entrepreneur, you depend on the support of your community to realize your vision, but what are you giving back? Good corporate citizenship is a must for business in 2012. Through time, resources, product and expertise, you can do well by doing good. The data show companies that build corporate citizenship into their business plan, make it part of the DNA of the business, see a return on their investment.

IBM touts an impressive 3:1 return on its corporate citizenship efforts. That’s a $3 return for every dollar spent. By tracking five sources (talent, investments, technology innovation, brand, new market entry) diligently, the company has built its citizenship efforts into the way it works every day, all over the world.

In a Harvard Business School study, researchers found that high sustainability companies perform better over time. These companies made long-term investments in their efforts, rather than viewing corporate citizenship efforts as a short-term marketing campaign.

Experts say that you must build corporate citizenship investments into your business plan and review your activities regularly to ensure you’re on track.

Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software says,

“Being a good corporate citizen has given Palo Alto Software tremendous ROI. We  give time, resources and free product to academia, nonprofit, and a multitude of different entrepreneurs. At Palo Alto Software we are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and small businesses in Oregon where we are based, as well as across the world where we serve our free content and tools and sell our products.

Corporate Citizenship is part of our DNA, and part of what allows us to bring true passion for small business and entrepreneurship to Palo Alto Software.”

How do you, as an entrepreneur or small business, decide where to focus? Some tips:

Look at your mission statement. What have you stated is your reason for being? Chances are, you’ll find some hints in there about what kinds of efforts make the most sense for your company.

Examine your core values. Beyond your mission statement, what do you value as a company? Zappos, a company well-known for its corporate culture, has a great list of values that drive business decisions. (We especially like “be adventurous, creative, and open minded.”)

Ask your employees. Corporate citizenship efforts can have a profound effect on employee satisfaction, so doesn’t it make sense to ask them how the company should be spending its time, energy and money in this area?

Whether your efforts focus on philanthropy, community involvement or social innovation, build the investments you make in corporate citizenship into your business plan, review what you’re doing regularly to ensure you’re on track.

What is your company doing to be a good corporate citizen? How do you track your success? Share your ideas with us here.

AvatarKelli Matthews

Kelli Matthews is an instructor of public relations at the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication, she owns marketing and PR firm Verve Northwest Communications and is a "mama-squared." Her and her partner just welcomed baby number 2 in May 2012. He joins his big brother (age 6). Find her on Twitter at @kmatthews or via email at