Flex Your Financial Muscle

Whether you're buying a new car or a tube of toothpaste, make sure you spend your hard-earned money with companies that invest in your community

to shareholders’ meetings is a new dimension to making companies socially responsible," Jackson contends. "Change and pressure always go hand in hand. Sometimes we have to convince them where their interests lie." Most recently, the Wall Street Project helped to facilitate major deals with two be financial 50 investment banks: Blaylock & Partners (No. 7 on the be investment bank list) was a co-manager of an $8 billion AT&T bond offering and Utendahl Capital (No. 2 on the be investment bank list) was a co-manager of Pepsi Bottling Group’s initial public offering.

Of course, national organizations have made some companies more accountable to the black community because of the power they have in numbers. But do individual efforts make a difference where corporate reciprocity is concerned? "I think my input had an impact," responds Larry Phillips, a network director at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Greenbelt, Maryland. "For years, Today’s Man in the Rockville [Maryland] store didn’t have what I considered an adequate number of African American employees," explains Phillips. Periodically he visited the store to voice his concern to management. "I told them I want to spend money in this store, but I’ll wait until I see more African Americans working here." Now the store not only boasts more African American salespeople, it also has a minority as the store’s manager. Phillips is so pleased with the retailer’s progress, he will even delay a purchase and wait until the store gets an item in. "I want that store’s manager to get credit for the sale," he declares. "Unless we start sponsoring ourselves, we are never going to get anywhere."

How can you determine whether a company is responsive to the African American community? Betsy Helgager, vice president of Ketchum’s African American Markets Group, suggests you "notice whether there are African American servers in restaurants or African American salespeople in some of the upscale clothing stores. Also, pay attention to a company’s customer service policies." She says consumers should make purchasing decisions based on what they observe as well as how they are treated when they shop at various outlets. Foster agrees.

"Unfortunately there are a lot of businesses that don’t care about me as a person of color and it’s reflective of who they have working for them and with them," she insists. "And if that’s the case, I would rather not deal with them."

Are you ready to flex your financial muscles? Here are a few tips to make sure you spend your money with companies that invest in your community:

  • Contact local organizations. According to Haithcox, "You can expect them to tell you who is [financially] supporting those organizations. Generally speaking, if a corporation is socially responsible and diverse in its policies and practices, more than likely it will spend dollars in people of color’s local operations."
  • Check out the firm’s hiring practices. "Although it may be harder to find out who is behind the scenes, look around
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