Giving Back to the Community: The Small Business Guide to Doing it Right

There are many ways your small business can have a big impact on the community. And while nobody advocates giving back purely as a growth strategy,...

Community, Giving back, Small business

There are many ways your small business can have a big impact on the community. And while nobody advocates giving back purely as a growth strategy, doing good is good for your business, too.

"Employees, customers and other influencers recognize these efforts," says John Urban, senior partner with The Philanthropic Initiative in Boston.

A Gallup meta-analysis found that companies that encouraged their employees to engage in giving back to the community experienced higher productivity and profitability than businesses with low or no employee engagement. These businesses also saw 12 percent higher customer loyalty.

Furthermore, according to data from a May 2013 study from Cone Communications and Echo Research, 82 percent of American consumers consider a company's social responsibility when deciding what to buy and from whom.

You can capitalize on those benefits with these six business philanthropy strategies:

  1. Go Deep: "Many types of donors make the mistake of spreading their philanthropy too thinly over too many nonprofit organizations," says Bruce DeBoskey, philanthropic strategist with The DeBoskey Group in Denver. "We recommend that donors, including small businesses, focus their giving and volunteerism on a small number of areas — two or three." Channeling your activity creates a bigger impact.
  1. Use Your Skills: Choose opportunities in which you can deploy your specific skills, services and assets. That's what Phil Fogarty, owner of several Weed Man franchise locations, did. In 1996, he created an annual lawn care industry day of service, Renewal & Remembrance, for Arlington National Cemetery. Since then, more than 500 volunteers have resodded, limed, aerated, pruned, planted, protected and irrigated areas all over the 624-acre memorial site. "They get work done that wasn't budgeted or planned for," Fogarty says. "But it does more for us. We have a deeper appreciation for the peaceful existence and opportunities we have as American citizens."
  1. Do unto Others: "We like to sponsor a family or families in need," says Don Maranca, owner of The Alternative Board in San Antonio. "We buy gifts for the kids and wrap them up so their parents can give to them from Santa or however they like. We also like to buy something for the parents, especially for single moms." Check with your local department of social services or churches and synagogues for help identifying families. Jane Coloccia Teixeira, owner of Irvine, CA?based JC Communications, LLC, suggests another, even simpler approach. "If you run a hair or nail salon, give someone in need — like a homeless woman or a person in a shelter — a haircut or manicure" or donate some personal care supplies. Or volunteer or donate to the local homeless shelter or food pantry.
  1. Write a Check: Are the holidays your busy season? "Perhaps use a small percentage of your proceeds during that time to make a donation to a worthy cause in January. Then you don't need to do a thing during the holidays but your job," Teixeira says. "And you might want to consider being philanthropic all year long — not just at the holidays. As someone once told me, everyone volunteers in the soup kitchen to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving — but what they really need is help the rest of the year."
  1. Raise Awareness: When Candace Ursery, co-owner and president of Convenient Car Care, Inc. — Valvoline Instant Oil Change, in Clarksville, TN, decided to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research, she and her father, Doug Wall, wanted to stand out. They painted one of their quick lube buildings bright pink, decked staff out in pink and held a cook-out at the brightly colored building. "By doing something as drastic as painting the building cotton-candy pink, it wasn't likely to be overlooked — and has had the impact that we hoped," Ursery reports. During October, the pink location also donated $2.00 for every oil change to the Sarah Cannon Research Center.
  1. Donate Goods: Mark Bisaillon runs an IT and marketing firm, Cairnedge Consulting, in Palatine, IL, and clients often leave their outmoded computers with him after an upgrade. "I was concerned about just adding them to the landfills," he recalls. "So I did a little research and found that the systems could run newer operating systems with a couple of upgrades. I just invested a little time and money to add RAM to the systems, scrub the hard drives clean and clean up the boxes in preparation for a new home." For five years, he's been donating refurbished technology to the Palatine Opportunity Center. "Our recycle and donation program wasn't created with a reciprocal benefit in mind. We may receive 'good will' from our clients, but I'm happy to be able to contribute my skills and resources to further their causes."

Regardless of the way your small business gives back to the community, it has to be authentic, Urban says, otherwise "it will fail to enhance the brand, it will fail because there will be no reason to sustain the giving over time, and it will fail in creating any resulting social impact. In developing a corporate philanthropy plan, we encourage executives to ask the question: 'Would we do this if the only people who knew about our philanthropy were our employees and the beneficiaries?' If the answer is yes, then you likely have authentic giving. It's key to remember that everyone, employees and customers included, are savvy when it comes to seeing through fluff."