Giving back. Paying it forward. Getting involved in your community.
It goes by many names, this urge to take your small business and make it do good in the world. If you're a business owner who is thinking about partnering with a worthy cause, I applaud your altruism.
You don't have to have a big budget in order to have a positive impact. Options range from donating a few hours of your time to a day of company time for employees to volunteer.
In-kind donations can involve goods or services from your business and may allow you to have an even larger impact than a gift of cash.
Of course, money is always a welcome commodity, with many savvy nonprofits offering sponsorship packages tailored to their small-business supporters.
But with so many deserving organizations, where do you start? If you already have an existing personal connection with a charity, you can always expand the relationship to include your business. But if you don't have a strong tie, here are some approaches to try.
>> Support a cause in your industry: There may be some natural synergy between your business and a helping organization.
Home stager Hedy Swercheck, of HS Solutions Group in California, found a natural fit between her interior design business and Habitat for Humanity. “When I'm decluttering spaces, I arrange donations to Habitat ReStore. This keeps items out of landfills and helps a great organization.”
She has also reaped rewards from her hands-on involvement with the charity. “I have learned construction techniques on Habitat build sites that have helped me when I am working on client spaces,” Swercheck said.
Along the same lines, Charlotte, N.C., real estate agent Josie Mazzaferro gives a portion from each of her closings to the YWCA's long-term transitional housing programs.
Mazzaferro said: “I also volunteer and donate to Moore Place, which houses the chronically homeless, and the Housing Opportunity Foundation, which provides grants to nonprofits that address unmet housing needs. I love saying that I work the entire continuum of Charlotte housing.”
>> Help groups your customers use: Nicole Pennell owns Dogtopia, a Charlotte dog day care facility where her customers are canines and the people who love them. Pennell supports animal welfare organizations such as the Humane Society of Charlotte, the Coalition to Unchain Dogs, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control. She also does outreach with auction and raffle packages for charity events.
>> Partner with your employees: “Often we see our clients making selections based on what their employees are passionate about,” said Jenni Walker, head of Charlotte-based Walker PR Group.
“Employees may have personal involvement with a charity, or it may simply be a cause near and dear to their hearts.”
One of Walker's clients, CEO Inc., established a giving fund managed by employees. Their employees nominate and select a different organization every month to receive a portion of company profits, in addition to donations from individual employees.
>> Align to your business goals: More and more, customers are looking to do business with companies that share their values, so charitable involvement can be great for business. You can satisfy your desire to make your local community a better place and at the same time market to like-minded prospects, raising awareness and visibility for your brand.
Make sure and do your homework to understand the reach of the organizations you are considering. Identify which causes have the greatest audience overlap with your business goals.
Most important, make a commitment to take the first step. When it comes to selecting a charitable group to support, there are few wrong answers.