Many small businesses and sole proprietorships think they're too small to regularly give support to a nonprofit. Yet partnering with the right nonprofit, even at a “low” level, can pay significant dividends to your business.
Don't be intimidated by the millions of dollars that huge public companies donate to charity. Your small business can create a strategic partnership now with a preferred charity and pave the way for a much broader support strategy as your business grows.
If you succeed and your charity further fulfills its mission, it's a win-win for you and the charity.
To get the greatest return from your charitable partnership — besides feeling good about giving — you'll want to pay close attention to the following guidelines:
1. Accept that your business may benefit from supporting a charity.
Some folks have a hard time accepting that their charitable donations can bolster their business. Shouldn't charitable giving be selfless? Rethink this one. If you choose the right charity and support it with whatever time and money you can afford, that charity will make sure to acknowledge your support. Others will be inclined to consider you as a business partner because you have an idealistic gene in common. In addition, you can write off charitable donations.
These results of your giving will strengthen your business so that you can grow and afford to increase your charitable giving. So stop worrying about whether it's “proper.” If you succeed and your charity further fulfills its mission, it's a win-win for you and the charity.
2. Consolidate your personal and family charitable activities.
If you examine your current donations of time and money to nonprofits, you'll realize you are already engaged in supporting worthy causes. Do you or a family member run 10Ks or marathons to raise money for charity? Work once a month in a soup kitchen? Write checks for your kids' cookie sales or field trip fund? Provide pro bono services through your business to an industry networking group? It's time to start funneling as much of this as possible through your business, where it could be more powerful for you, your family and the nonprofit world.
3. Choose one nonprofit to support.
This is critical, and is often the toughest rule to stick to. The biggest mistake businesses make in their charitable giving is getting spread too thin. Instead of focusing their time and money donations on a single charity, they take a scatter shot approach that dilutes the impact of their giving.
If you're a sole proprietorship or 2-3 person shop, select one local charity whose mission truly resonates with you. (A local charity offers better partnership opportunities.) If it reflects your business, so much the better. (For instance, you make custom boots and support a charity that supplies footwear to children in the third world.)
Tip: If you have employees, solicit their input on a charity to support, and try to select one that most employees are passionate about. Employees take pride is working for a business that supports a charity they care about.
4. Meet with an executive at the nonprofit and ask them what you can do.
The need is great for any nonprofit, and the more sophisticated ones will offer you an array of engagement opportunities to choose from. Even small ones know what they need; it just may be harder to get an appointment with someone in charge. Don't try to come up with something without their input. The last thing a charity needs is to find a way to manage a donation that doesn't meet a direct service need.
5. Money is only ONE way to help your favorite charity.
You're trying to jump start your business, so cash is king. Don't start by simply writing a check when you can't really spare the dough right now. You (and your employees if you have some) can:
- Donate time once a month or once a quarter helping with a project, such as spring cleaning, moving office furniture, working on some component of the annual fundraiser, etc.
- Host an intimate “friendraiser” at your office or the home of someone in your business, where you and the charity work together to invite potential supporters to enjoy wine and cheese while you and the executive director talk about the importance of the charity's mission to guests.
- Donate products or services. If you are a bootmaker, you can donate last year's excess inventory. You do a good deed and get a write-off on product that didn't sell. Maybe you could have your creative services firm design the annual appeal letter for free. There are lots of opportunities to get involved if you choose the right nonprofit partner.
- Donate a vehicle to the charity. Vehicle donations are a really easy way to support your charity with almost no commitment of time or money on your part. Most nonprofits have an agreement with a towing company to make this happen with the least impact on your business.
If you follow these basic rules, you and your company will soon come to be identified as an ongoing supporter of a local charity. You'll be mentioned in their newsletter and on the website, perhaps you'll be asked to join the board of trustees or take part in a committee, where you'll meet others who, like you, believe in giving back.