The business sector is generally defined as the part of the economy made up of for-profit companies. It is a vast sector. Business entities range in size from just a few employees to thousands. They are small, local businesses and multinational corporations and everything in between.

How is business related to health?

We know that a person’s zip code is a stronger determinant of their health than their genetic code. The County Health Rankings model illustrates that the root causes of poor health are influenced by factors like education, income, community safety, and housing. Through their workplace policies and practices and external partnerships, business leaders have the power to influence many of those root causes.

Businesses and community partners can work together to create opportunities to increase job skills, enhance local employment opportunities, and create supportive and safe work environments – to the benefit of the entire community.

A healthy workforce is good for the bottom line.1 And healthy communities are economically strong. That’s good for business, too.

When people live healthier lives, business benefits.

Business Drives Culture Change

I believe that business drives culture change. Only with businesses and investors on board can we succeed in building a Culture of Health in America, one that ensures that all of us, no matter our income, color of our skin, or where we live, can thrive — and one that drives our nation’s economic growth.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey
President Emerita at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

What can business do to build healthy communities?

Within company walls

Most adults spend nearly half their waking hours at work.

A healthy work environment can impact profit and employee performance. More specifically, it can reduce insurance costs, improve attendance, increase productivity, improve recruitment and retention, and boost morale.

Internal policies and practices impact employee health. Offering healthy food choices, ensuring a smoke-free worksite, providing tuition reimbursement, and subsidizing childcare costs are just a few ways businesses can support employee wellbeing.

Working in a safe environment with fair pay often provides not only income, but also benefits such as health insurance, paid sick leave, and workplace wellness programs. These benefits extend beyond employees to help keep their families healthy. Healthy families are also good for the bottom line.

Learn more about what employers can do to impact the health of their workforce in What Works for Health.

Beyond their walls

Businesses can extend their influence beyond the worksite in a few key ways:

Institutional policies and practices. Institutional business practices and policies can extend benefits to the community where a company is located. This can include examining things like:

  • Purchasing: Where they purchase goods and services.
  • Location: Where they locate their worksites and services.
  • Recruitment and Retention: Hiring and workforce development practices.
  • InvestingWhere they’re investing their money.

Partnering with others. Business leaders can partner with others to create opportunities to increase job skills and enhance employment opportunities. A recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report explored how a number of businesses are taking leadership roles in advancing student successes.

  • Local schools and postsecondary institutions are often eager to work with businesses to provide internship and employment development opportunities.
  • Similarly, business changemakers can work with community-based organizations to provide mentoring, tutoring, counseling, or vocational training to reduce dropout or truancy rates.

Business leaders can also encourage employees to volunteer in community improvement efforts. Some employers allow workers to volunteer during work hours.

Advocating for better policies. Business leaders can use their credibility and influence with decision makers to promote effective policies that address the root causes of health problems. Think education, income, community safety, housing, and discrimination.

Business is a key decision-maker for several strategies listed in What Works for Health.

Making investments. Powerful public-private partnerships with businesses and community-based organizations are being created across the nation to invest in improving the health of communities. This can range in scale from in-kind contributions like offering space for community meetings or other events to large, multi-year investments like the example below.

Investing in Early Childhood

In Utah, Goldman Sachs & the Pritzker Family Foundation partnered with the local United Way in Salt Lake County to create a Social Impact Bond focused on increasing school readiness.

“The way we think about it here, is really it’s about double bottom line investing,” said Andrea Phillips, Vice President at Goldman Sachs. “It’s about investing dollars in a way that has a social impact but that also provides a financial return.”2

Since, 2013, Goldman Sachs and JB Pritzker have invested a combined $7 million. The project aims to provide high impact and targeted curriculum to 3,500 preschool-aged children from low-income communities. These services are intended to increase school readiness and academic performance and reduce the need for special education at a later age.

How can you connect with business?

Do your research

If you are approaching a specific company, take some time to understand their goals and how they might align with your efforts. Start with their website and some simple internet searches for relevant news clips, social networking pages, or employer review sites (e.g., Glassdoor, Great Place to Work, Indeed, etc.).

As you do your research, think about how a business makes its decisions. Are they locally controlled or headquartered elsewhere? How does that factor into building the relationship?

Here are some additional questions to consider:

  • How does being engaged in building a healthy community link to the core work they do? Look for alignment. (Example: A bank provides a financial literacy program.)
  • Does the business have a foundation associated with it? If so, learn more about the issues or types of work the foundation has supported.
  • What value can you offer the business? Altruism is nice, but it’s also OK for businesses to get value of partnerships. (Example: Community transportation programs get people to work.)
  • What efforts or causes has the business traditionally supported?

Not sure where to start?

These organizations and resources may help get connected at the local and state level.

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Community Health and Wellness network helps the business community to connect the dots to create a holistic vision of health.
  • The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions' member coalitions are committed to community health reform, including an improvement in the value of health care provided through employer-sponsored health plans and to the entire community. Local coalitions may be natural allies. Check out the Alliance’s list of member organizations.
  • Check in with your local Chamber of Commerce or business association.

Get connected

Once you’ve got some context, look for a way to connect with a person. Ideally, you’ve identified one or more key changemakers in the organization. This could be someone in a leadership position or the person who heads up corporate responsibility efforts.

If you have a mutual partner, ask for a warm introduction. If you have relationships with your local Chamber of Commerce or United Way, they may be able to provide an introduction. If not, introduce yourself.

Cultivate relationships. Early relationship-building conversations can help you think about how you can engage business in a meaningful way. You might have an idea of what you want to get out of your relationship, but you have to go in willing to listen and find the value-add for them.

Start by asking about their efforts and priorities. Let them know why you want to connect with them. This might go something like: “What I really want to talk about today is where you see value. Here are some things I’m interested in, but that will change based on what I hear from you.”

Hint: Don’t just go asking for money. Business can play a more comprehensive role in the health of a community.

Set realistic expectations. Understand how they can meaningfully contribute to your partnership. Expecting business partners to attend monthly coalition meetings may not be realistic. Instead, give them a way to contribute that respects their interests and skills in advancing health. Think about things like strategic planning, project management, budgeting, and marketing.

Make your ask fail-proof. Once you’re ready to make an ask, make it as simple as possible for them to take specific steps to move a health strategy forward in your community.  

Use the Rankings model. Business may not immediately recognize that they are well positioned to influence many of the factors that impact health. Use the Rankings model to show businesses that they impact several of the factors that influence wellbeing.

What’s in it for them?

Listen for the “what’s in it for them” as you’re building relationships with potential business partners. What is the clear and direct benefit to the individual or company you’re reaching out to?

Generally speaking, businesses are motivated by:

  • Brand reputation. Positive reputations are good for business stability and growth.3 Building relationships with community members (also known as customers) is good for their brand. It also helps retain and attract quality employees.
  • Bottom line. When communities are healthier, employer benefit costs are reduced, economic development thrives, and everyone in the community benefits.
  • Causes that align with their business interests.


  1. Berry LL, Mirabito AM, Baun WB. What’s the Hard Return On Employee Wellness Programs?: Harv Bus Rev. 2010:104-112. Accessed September 26, 2017.
  2. Goldman Sachs. (2013). Social Impact Bonds for Early Childhood Education: Goldman Sachs.​
  3. Barić A. Corporate social responsibility and stakeholders: Review of the last decade (2006-2015). Bus Syst Res. 2017;8(1):133-146. doi:10.1515/bsrj-2017-0011.

Learn From This Community

2017 RWJF Culture of Health Prize Winner: Algoma, Wisconsin

Businesses in Algoma, WI that once waited for their workforce are now working with Algoma educators to cultivate it. With jobs that pay a living wage, graduates can plant local roots, build careers, and enjoy a healthy income and job security.

At the same time, it builds on a tradition in Algoma of employers acting as active partners to meet the needs of the community. 

Learn More

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