Getting Involved in Your Community

by: Dianna Brodine

Chances are, your business has been asked to donate to local charity events and activities. Chances are, your business has received a lot of those requests. Nonprofit organizations, by definition, have to run a very tight financial ship, and one way to cut budget costs is to solicit donations of cold, hard cash or in-kind services. With the decline of available grant money and the increased costs of doing business, it’s unlikely that the pile of requests from local nonprofit organizations will get smaller. But why should your business get involved?

Four years of my recent working life have been spent in development departments for nonprofit organizations. The majority of my time was given to writing letters, making phone calls, and visiting local businesses that could contribute financially or through in-kind services. During each contact, I stressed the ways our shared community would be improved. The business in question usually focused on the tax benefits. The challenge (although I did my best) was showing the business owner that it’s not just the local charity that benefits from a contribution.

It’s true. There are benefits for your business when you become involved in your community.

Take Advantage of Publicity

The most obvious benefit to your business is the free publicity that comes with making a donation. It’s marketing in its simplest, and least expensive, form. You want potential customers to know about your business. Potential customers are looking for your service. Publicity brings the two together. Yes, selling bindery services is more complicated than it is for the typical retail store looking for a $15 sale but your business won’t thrive if the people who need your services don’t know you exist.

The donations you make should have specific and well-articulated benefits associated with your contribution. Ask the group who is proposing the donation what publicity will be included. Questions you should ask include the following:

  • Will your logo be placed prominently at the event (for example: on posters or t-shirts) or on other visual publicity generated by the nonprofit?
  • Will your business be mentioned in the event press releases?
  • Will your organization be thanked in the nonprofit newsletter or on its web site? If you’re listed on the nonprofit web site, can a link be added to your business site?
  • During the event, is there a location that would be appropriate for displaying your business’s banner?
  • What hands-on opportunities are available for your business to participate in during the actual event? Don’t underestimate the value of your presence. Television and newspaper media often will be present at these events, as will potential customers.

Don’t be afraid to send out your own press release. Many times, information from well-respected businesses is received with more enthusiasm by the local press than that received from a charity organization.

Say Hello to New Customers

Media publicity is not the only benefit for your business. The networking opportunities can be priceless. Nonprofit organizations often have an extensive board of directors, made up of top management from local businesses. The majority of those businesses are generating annual reports, advertising booklets, product pamphlets, and other printed materials that are currently funneled through other binderies. Take advantage of the chance to shake some hands and talk about the special services your business offers.

Nonprofit organizations also receive contributions and support from individual donors. Those with the most influence have probably made significant donations in the past. Where did the money come from? Individual donors also can have connections in the community that will open doors for your business.

Don’t forget about possible business partner connections. Is there a printer in town that you’d love to work with but haven’t been able to make a connection? Working together successfully on a project for a nonprofit organization is an easy way to sell your capabilities, efficiencies, and expertise to a potential partner.

There’s one other new customer to consider – the nonprofit organization. As a rule, nonprofits don’t like to spend money on items that could be donated. But you can bet that whenever my budget allowed, I spent the money I had with the local businesses that had given to my organization in the past.

Some of this may sound rather calculated. After all, isn’t giving to charity supposed to be about finding the most deserving organization? Not necessarily. It’s not unreasonable to make charitable contribution decisions based on which organizations have connections that could benefit your business. After all, it’s your dollar that is on the table. You have the right to decide where it will be most effectively spent.

Create Warm Fuzzy Feelings

So you’re starting to see some of the tangible benefits of community involvement. Your company logo could be on t-shirts all over town and you might find yourself shaking hands with future customers. But what about the intangibles? Yes, I’m talking about that warm, fuzzy feeling you get from doing something nice. As a business owner, you are in a position to affect positive change for the community in which you live. Adding your name to its roster of supporters could give a nonprofit just the lift it needs to make an event a success. The money or services you contribute could make a significant difference in the life of someone in your hometown. Sure, it sounds like a sales pitch, but I was often amazed by the number of people who didn’t understand that their donation, no matter how small, made a big difference when it was added to what others had given.

That warm, fuzzy feeling doesn’t stop with you. Your employees will feel it too. A project for a local charity is often a welcome break for employees who rarely feel a personal connection to the work they’re doing. And, although it may seem unlikely, your employees could be receiving some of the services provided by local nonprofits. Counseling services, local boys and girls clubs, programs for the elderly, and food banks are all run by nonprofit organizations. The community members that you are benefiting through your contributions could be the same people you work with every day.

Choose Wisely

With the variety of requests that come through the door each year, it’s obvious that your business cannot support every organization in town. So, how do you decide which requests are worthy of your attention?

The first step is to determine a budget for your business’ annual contributions. By setting aside funds specifically for that purpose, your ability to respond to donation requests is already predetermined and you won’t feel a strain because you’re using funds that were meant for equipment acquisitions or employee salary increases. When the budgeted funds are gone, your business is no longer able to accept requests (unless you choose otherwise).

Your business also should create guidelines for which types of organizations you will support and the value of the service you are willing to provide. Perhaps you feel strongly about supporting children or the elderly. Maybe you would prefer not to make cash donations but would be happy to work with a local printer to create program books or other printed and bound items. Your comfort level determines your involvement.

Finding out what other local businesses are contributing to a particular event could make it easier for you to decide if you will be participating. Are any of your competitors contributing to the same event? Do you want to avoid events that put your names together or do you want to emphasize your involvement as well? There’s no right answer to that question – it’s just one more thing to take into consideration.

Getting your employees involved also could be an effective solution. Ask your employees to make recommendations about which projects are a fit for your business. Form an employee committee to make the final decision. Or create an employee committee for evaluation purposes and get those donation requests off of your desk altogether!

Making a contribution to a nonprofit organization is a personal decision, but the next time your business receives an invitation to become involved in a community event, remember the good that you’ll do, not only for them but also for you.