Generally speaking, small businesses lack the wherewithal to create and staff philanthropic funds or giving campaigns but that doesn’t mean they are not giving. As a matter of fact, small businesses are thought to give more on average than their corporate counterparts. According to a recent survey by Alignable, a quarter of small business owners in 2014 planned to donate over 10% of their profits to charity. The tradeoff, however, is that oftentimes small businesses are not able to conduct their philanthropy with the same level of sophistication or potency as larger companies because they lack the capacity to do so. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Through a bit of focus and intentionality, small businesses can strategically target their resources to make just as pronounced and profound an impact on the issues that matter to them. Here are a just a few simple tips to begin the process of tightening your small business’ philanthropic approach.
Small businesses, especially those that have a strong presence in the community are often pitched all sorts of ideas, from local canned food drives to uniform sponsorship, to funding major social initiatives. As a result, small business giving can be all over the place. While this approach may have a feel good factor, it dilutes your company’s ability to have a concentrated impact. By choosing one or two issues, your company is able to build a philanthropic legacy around those issues. And it doesn’t really matter what the issues are. All that matters is that the company and employees are passionate enough about it to stick with it over a prolonged period of time.
When it comes to giving back, the first thing companies think about is money, but non-profits and community-based groups have a wide range of needs, many of which can be met without any money at all. When I started my consulting firm back in 2009, I created a monthly newsletter called “The Capacity Corner” because I soon realized that non-profits struggled with building the sort of organizational capacity necessary to operate a business because they were often absorbed by running programs. Do non-profits need money? ABSOLUTELY. But your small business might have access to a resource even more valuable than a check. Volunteerism is an obvious default, but non-profits also need professional support in the way of marketing, financial management, social media campaigning, etc. It’s possible that your organization is better poised to make a difference through in-kind support? The legal community is really good at this as large firms often require their associates to do pro-bono work for local non-profits in need of legal representation.
There is this belief, especially among small businesses and individual donors that you shouldn’t expect anything in return for your contribution. Well, that might be true when dropping coins into the cup of your local neighborhood panhandler, but if your company is interested in making a measurable difference, then heck yeah, there should be some level of expectation! It can be as modest or as bold as you’d like. That has everything to do with your goals or aims for your investment, but you’ll want to create some sort of mechanism for accountability so that you’re able to hold your partner accountable for whatever expectations you set together.
While the charitable benefits associated with more targeted small business philanthropy are clear, the organizational effects are likewise noteworthy. Not only are you building respect and a good reputation within the community, but you’re also infusing your organization’s culture with a spirit of giving which is sure to yield benefits across the various areas of your business.
Kelly Burton Ph.D. is an accomplished entrepreneur with over a decade’s experience launching and scaling start-up companies. She is the founder of Bodyology, a tech-based clothing line and Nexus Research Group, a social research firm. Burton is also the recently appointed columnist for UrbanGeekz.
Follow Kelly Burton on Twitter @iamkellyburton