Every business is a member of its local economy, just like every animal is a member of its local eco-system. When the local economy is flourishing, it's easier for a business to succeed—especially if it depends on people who buy locally. Doing what you can to build up your local economy can make business sense.
Community involvement can vary dramatically, but by getting involved in your community, you can produce clear, long-term benefits for your business, beyond any good feelings your good work provides. For example:
- Improving a local school means that the people who are your future employees will come to you better equipped for the work you do.
- Promoting the area as a destination for tourism or new growth can help widen your market.
- Assisting new business owners means that locals will be earning more money that they can turn around and spend with your business.
And in the short term, all that community involvement raises your profile and generates lots of good will.
Your needs and the community's
Depending on your business plan, different community-based resources will be more valuable to you than others. Maybe you'll need access to employees with a particular skill set more than you'll need locally-based customers. Or maybe you need local vendors who are big enough to support your future growth.
When you've identified what you need, figuring out how to help your community becomes easier. You can make plans based on where you think your efforts will do the most good—both for your business and for your community. Don't be afraid to do a little good work that isn't tied directly to a clear ROI, either: strengthening your community will always work towards your overall goals. On the other hand, don't be afraid to be open about the reason you're getting involved with your community. The fact of the matter is that if you are a part of the community, helping others is helping yourself.
But there's a catch. Before you can effectively tie your community involvement to your business goals, you need a clear picture of your community's needs before you jump in and start offering money or time. That means you need to get involved in your community before you start working on your goals.
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How to get involved
When you begin to look for ways to get involved, you'll probably find that that the opportunities to become involved with your community's economic development are many and various, allowing you to choose those that seem the most likely to benefit your business and those that appeal to you personally. There are always ways you can donate money, to help others get the resources they need to continue to move forward. But there are also plenty of opportunities to provide time and expertise—to be a leader, speaker, mentor, booster or an organizer.
Where to begin?
- Start by joining your local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is great for networking, in general, but it will also connect you with people and institutions involved in community improvement.
- Contact your local school system. It's a rare school that couldn't use another computer, or a speaker to talk to students about entrepreneurship, or an experienced decision-maker to help organize a fundraiser.
- Choose a cause and make it yours. Websites such as Cause Marketing Forum can help you connect with charities working in your area—or far away.
At every level—municipal, county and state—there are organizations devoted to some aspect of economic development. In many cases, such organizations have identified a particular need, such as bringing more tech-based businesses to the region. If their goals match your own, you've found an easy way to get involved in your community.
There's a certain sense that community involvement is the territory of the marketing department, a way to make your company's brand more interesting and appealing to the people who will buy from you. But community involvement shouldn't—and can't—be just a matter of public relations. It's about the long term, building your company to grow with your community, making sure that job applicants in a few years have the skills you need and that prospective clients will have plenty of money to spend with you, and so on.
Of course, the money and time you contribute now may not go directly to someone who benefits your business later. But the threads that connect members of a community reach surprisingly far. Knowledge gets passed around, as do skills and money. A little community involvement can set off a cascade of positive effects that can help your business in the future, even if you can't trace direct connections back to your efforts today.