This article appeared first in Comstock’s Magazine.
Giving Back Will Get You More
Community involvement helps foster friendships — and close deals.
Community involvement is key to a smart marketing strategy. One of the best ways to make an impact with your business is to first make an impact in your community. Not only does your business generate valuable philanthropic karma points, but you will be more likely to distinguish yourself from competitors, boost customer loyalty and have a happier workplace. Many times that impact is exponential. Research shows local businesses that give back to the community often lead others to do the same.
Consider this from another angle: From an economic development perspective, community involvement through philanthropy is a strategic opportunity for your business. Nonprofits are valuable partners in local and regional economic development. Our regional nonprofits contribute over $7.4 billion (yes, that’s with a “b”) in economic activity; statewide annual nonprofit activity results in $260 billion worth of goods and services. They also employ 1.7 million people in full-time jobs. For comparison:
- 1 out of 25 California jobs is in a restaurant
- 1 out of 50 California jobs is in agriculture
- 1 out of 16 California jobs is at a nonprofit organization
And California volunteers (which likely include some of your team members) do the equivalent work of 450,000 full-time workers. This provides meaningful work for those volunteering and reduces the cost of delivering the assistance our nonprofits provide.
So, where do you start? When establishing a community involvement plan for your business, it’s best to start with three main focus areas:
1. Identify what you and your customers care about, and how your brand can best fill that need.
A great community involvement strategy is more than writing a check; it’s using your brand to generate a memorable, long-lasting imprint. Every community has different needs, organizations and opportunities, so find out which ones best suit your business. Ask your employees, customers and other stakeholders what they care about most. Then, take it a step further by finding a unique way to engage your brand in the cause. For example, if your business sells art supplies, create a program that provides them to under-funded schools for art classes.
2. Get your employees involved.
Your employees live, work and play in their communities, so it’s natural that they would want to get involved. Giving them opportunities to serve under the umbrella of your business not only creates an extra benefit, but also gives your business a ready-made team of excited, passionate brand ambassadors actively demonstrating how much they care about the community. Recruit a group to participate in an annual volunteer day, participate in a 5K fundraiser or volunteer as a group to teach an art class at a local school.
3. Figure out where to build relationships around the community.
It can be difficult to make a significant impact without help, especially if you’re a small business. If you don’t have the time to plan, coordinate and market your own community involvement programs, identify ways to partner with other local businesses in a similar position. Join a local chamber of commerce and participate in its philanthropic programs, identify a group of other businesses with similar charitable interests, or adopt your employees’ passions and support the work they’re already doing.
After you’ve established your approach to service, it’s time to figure out the ideal activity, or mix of activities, to best-establish your business’s community efforts. This can include…
Volunteering: Whether you choose to do this individually or with your entire company, once a month or once a year, volunteering offers flexibility and hands-on results. Plus, you and your team will feel fulfilled by the volunteer work you’re doing. It’s also a great out-of-office team building opportunity.
Serving on a nonprofit board: This can be more time-consuming than volunteering, but it can create strong business connections. It also allows you to use the leadership and management skills from your professional life for the benefit of your community.
Participating in community events: Events are fun. Connecting your business with existing community events such as art festivals, parades and other celebrations not only shows you care for the community, but it puts you in front of existing and potential customers in a fun, memorable atmosphere.
Planning and hosting your own events: Hosting a charitable event can generate hugely positive results for your business, but it’s also a significant investment. If you have the time and money to do it right, throwing a one-time bash or creating a long-term signature event can pay dividends in name recognition and positive customer impressions.
Donating to and sponsoring charitable activities: Donations and sponsorships are the old faithful of business philanthropy and certainly have their place. If you have more money than time, this is the quickest way to connect your name to a nonprofit organization and its service.
Finally, now that you’ve decided where and how to focus your involvement, consider a few of these things when choosing which specific organization you want to support:
Look at the organization’s board of directors and the consistency of the organization’s leadership staff. Review their list of board members and contact the ones you know. Ask about how the organization is run, whether it ends the year with some money in the bank and about the diversity of its revenue.
- Check out the organization by attending one of their events or touring one of their facilities.
- Ask for references from other business organizations that are already involved.
- Ask for the organization’s annual report, and see if they tell their story effectively.
- Research each nonprofit through Giving Edge (givingedge.guidestar.org), a resource for learning about the impact local nonprofits make in your region.
Community involvement is a great way to differentiate your business from your competitors. It demonstrates that your business is generous with its time, resources and money, and that you share an interest in the causes your customers and employees care about. An engaging, unique and varied strategy can build your reputation as a valuable member of the business community. Remember, it’s important to focus on giving back, not just on making the sale.