When your business has achieved a certain amount of success, you may start thinking about ways to get involved in your community.
After all, nobody needs to tell you about the benefits of community involvement for businesses. You know that customers like seeing companies giving back. Employees enjoy knowing that they're working for an organization that is a force for good in the world.
Corporate social responsibility is also simply a smart way to get your business's name in the public's consciousness. If you're constantly involved in the world, people are going to notice.
Are you wondering, “How can a business get involved in its community?” You may want to try the following.
1. Become involved with a cause.
Matti Anttila is the founder and CEO of Grain & Barrel Spirits, an alcohol beverage company based out of West Palm Beach, Florida. Shortly after creating the company in 2012, the drinks took off and his company started donating 1 percent of its profits to the nonprofit 1% for the Planet. The organization helps direct money to environmental nonprofits around the world, organizations trying to do things such as battle climate change, save wildlife and protect the oceans.
According to Antilla, once a business is profitable, giving one percent of its profits to charity should be doable.
“Giving 1 percent is a great way to start," he says. “In a way it is painless, but in a way, it also adds up, and you'll be surprised how much impact you can make."
Marrying community and business has a positive impact on your bottom line, too, he adds.
“Over time, you will very likely see your business grow faster due to this act of good corporate citizenship, which is also good for your image, gives your consumers a reason to buy and simply makes those involved with you—whether staff or customers—feel good," Antilla says. "From there you can let things grow organically and naturally."
2. Bring a cause into your business.
“Going through a nonprofit is one way, but it's not the only way," says Krystal Nelson, founder and CEO of I Impakt Consulting, a sustainability consulting firm based out of Houston.
A company could do a lot of good without giving money or sending employees to volunteer somewhere, Nelson points out.
You could, for instance, make a policy of hiring refugees, or you might partner with another company to build an internship program for underserved youth, she says. Even making your company more energy efficient might be a way of bringing a cause in your business.
3. Do pro bono work.
What about giving some of your time and expertise to national or local nonprofits?
There are so many possibilities. If you're a marketing company, you could work on marketing strategies to get the word out about a charity or cause you believe in. Do you have a computer repair store? You could offer free or heavily discounted IT services to an impoverished elementary school in your neighborhood.
“The value a staffing company can provide to a nonprofit organization's recruitment strategy is more valuable than the staffing company planting trees or giving the nonprofit $1,000," Nelson says.
4. Host a charitable event.
Tasia Duske is the CEO of Museum Hack, a company that specializes in museum tours and corporate team-building activities, all done at museums around the country.
“We've hosted charitable events, entirely at our own expense, to bring underrepresented groups into the museum," Duske says. (For example, she brought Back on My Feet, a nonprofit aimed at fighting homelessness in America, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.)
What about giving some time and your expertise to some national or local nonprofits? If you're a marketing company, you could work on marketing strategies to get the word out about a charity or cause you believe in.
You may not see your profits go up wildly when you work with charities, but there is payback—you do end up feeling good about what your business is able to do.
“The feedback we heard from guests, many who are members of the homeless population, is that it was on empowering experience,” Duske says. "They had never felt like they were part of an insider group or like they were doing something coveted by others.”
5. Do something special for the community.
Shane Pliska is the president of Planterra, a West Bloomfield, Michigan-based interior landscaping and plant rental service company.
Most of the time, Pliska spends his day working with clients and vendors. But for the last seven years in a row, he has also played host to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at his company's greenhouse Planterra Conservancy.
The symphony was looking for venues in the area to connect with the community, and when they asked Pliska if he would host them, he jumped at the opportunity. It's a fairly easy way to do something nice for his community. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra gets 100 percent of the ticket revenue, and his neighbors get some quality entertainment for a low price: Tickets are $20. (He always buys a block of tickets to give to interested employees.)
“It sells out weeks prior every year," says Pliska. “We've made this a tradition. I think consistency is important in making these efforts worthwhile; it becomes a memorable experience. People look forward to this event. It contributes to our reputation and our brand."
Do Gooder Considerations
Obviously, it's easy to vet a nonprofit when it's something like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra—and in some situations, it's very easy to see when a partnership is a good idea.
But for those entrepreneurs who want to know how can a business get involved in its community, try not to rush into it, Nelson says. For instance, if it's a new charity (and especially if you want to receive a tax exemption), you'll want to see if the nonprofit is a 501(c)3. Nelson suggests using the IRS's tax exemption search engine.
You may want to ask the organization for their annual report to learn more about them, she says. You could also ask for the breakdown of their costs to see how much of every dollar actually goes toward their mission.
“All nonprofits will not have [one]," she explains, "but many do have an annual report that they distribute. Some organizations have their annual reports on their website."
Try to make sure your company aligns with the nonprofit you want to work with. For instance, if you did have a computer store, it would make a lot of sense to work with a charity that helps at-risk youth improve their computer and tech skills. It wouldn't make as much sense to donate time and money to save the world's elephants, even, though, yes that's a great, worthwhile cause.
Still, if saving elephants is what you want to do, you may want to find a way to help that's part of your company's mission and goals. You could donate some computers to a charity that offers aid and protection to elephants.
Whatever you do, make sure you're working with a solid organization.
“Supporting and partnering with the wrong nonprofit can put your company at risk for severe reputation, legal and financial damage," Nelson says.
You don't have to give until it hurts, as the saying goes. Instead, just give until you have helped.
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