If you knew a way to give your company’s reputation a boost, get your employees more engaged in their roles and improve the quality of your future workforce—all in one fell swoop—you’d do it in a heartbeat, right?
The best way to accomplish these objectives, and more, is to participate in corporate philanthropy. Whether you support a local charity or engage your staff in volunteer work, the impact of giving back to your community can often be felt throughout your business. And it’s really quite easy.
“So many businesses, small and large, are asked to participate in the life of the community in which their employees are living,” notes Bill King, president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, an association of regional grant-makers. “The benefits to the company are making investments that create a community with a good quality of life that retains a strong workforce, who eventually help run your business. Research also has shown that employees want to work for a company that gives back to the community.”
That sense of goodwill even extends beyond employees. Eight in 10 Americans indicate that corporate support of causes wins their trust in that company, according to surveys completed by Cone, Inc. Additionally, 87 percent of consumers report that they would switch brands or retailers to one associated with a good cause when price and quality are equal.
Convinced? Here’s how to make your business more philanthropic and an increasingly engaged member of the community.
Make a plan
Small businesses often set aside a certain amount of money to donate to charity, and it’s gone before they know it, says Jackie Reis, who runs a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce program to help small businesses engage with philanthropy. “They find it hard to say ‘No,’” she says. “But they realize that with a giving plan that sets some priorities and guidelines, as well as some processes and procedures, it can be easier to respond to the many requests that come to them weekly, particularly those businesses located on Main Street.”
Decide what causes you would like to support
That way, you have some parameters for deciding where to donate your money or services. “Find an intersection between your company’s interests and your philanthropic interest and your community’s needs, where you can do something positive,” says King. For example, a medical-device company could support science programs for teens; a hardware store could paint senior citizens’ homes.
Establish guidelines for giving
Once you generally know which causes you’d like to support, decide what you want to give. Do you want to donate dollars or in-kind products or services? The latter also offers tax benefits just like giving money. Or encourage employees to offer hands-on assistance like serving on a board; they might gain different skills they can apply at work. Set an annual plan for your giving and then stick to it, Reis says.
Consider alternatives to donating money
If funds aren’t available, your company can give back to the community in other ways. You can offer employees a certain number of hours off each month or year to spend on volunteer work, King says. Group projects for employees—cleaning up a park, stocking a food shelf or holding a blood drive—can be effective team-building activities.
Learn how to say no, nicely
Many small business owners fear that saying no to causes will tarnish the reputation of their business. But it’s really okay to graciously decline, King notes.
Write up a short statement that defines what your business supports: the arts, the environment, military families or youth sports. When someone approaches you with a request that doesn’t match, you can write a quick note that says, “‘We fund in these areas and your request doesn’t fit that area. Thank you and good luck,’” says King. “If you know what you stand for and are clear about that, most people are respectful and understand your priorities.”
Don’t get overwhelmed
Manage charitable giving like you would any function in the company—plan first, then put into action. Spend time on your plan, or task a key employee with doing so, and adjust from year to year to match your company’s current status. “You’ll be more successful and satisfied,” King says, “and you’ll be less overwhelmed by all the people who might come and ask you for support.”
Before you know it, your business will enjoy a reputation as a giving, participating member of the community. It’s the right thing to do—and it might have tangible and intangible benefits for your company and community down the road.
Suzy Frisch is a Twin Cities–based freelance writer. She’s covered business, politics, law and many other topics for a range of publications, including Twin Cities Business magazine, the Star Tribune and the Chicago Tribune.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.
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