Post by Alyson Genovese, Cause Solutions
“Though she be but little, she is fierce!” – William Shakespeare “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Small companies admittedly have it tough, philanthropically-speaking. Business owners are working hard to build a sustainable company, employ local workers, and create economic value. Small business owners are “chief cook and bottle-washer.”
One of the best parts of living in a community with a vibrant small business community is that the owners are highly accessible, which can sometimes prove a challenge: the owners must field requests for philanthropic funding. A lot. Unlike their large company peers, they do not have the luxury of creating an infrastructure to facilitate such requests or have dedicated staff for community giving.
Although small businesses have very different assets to bear than their large business counterparts, it does not mean that those assets are LESS valuable. Small businesses are nimble, they are close to their consumer, passionate and the lines between personal and professional lives are often blurred. On the front lines in communities, many small businesses are greatly affected by the economic and social health of their communities.
In short, they get it.
Small business owners can be highly effective philanthropic leaders. Adding staff or establishing a complex process are not necessary to serve your community and your business.
Understand How Philanthropic Giving Can Impact Business Needs
I know. We are all purists and want to think that companies give into communities because it’s just the right thing to do. But that’s not how it works. Cause-programs, corporate giving strategies and the like can help address strategic business challenges. Sometimes it’s marketing and developing relationships with consumers in an emotional way. Sometimes it’s attracting and retaining talent. When you figure out what your business pain points are – as though you don’t already know them – you can start to imagine how your philanthropic giving can help address those needs.
Determine Your Unique Value
Let’s just say it… nonprofit organizations always appreciate cash. However, cash can come from a variety of sources. High quality professional services can be much harder to come by. For small business owner Chris Conroy of Heartwood Media, it can be difficult to offer cash contributions to local nonprofit organizations. Instead, the company created the Nonprofit Challenge, where it selects one New Hampshire nonprofit to offer variety of strategic counsel, branding, video production and promotion support. This allows Heartwood to use its expertise and assets in a way that can be invaluable to the nonprofit partner that might otherwise never be able to afford such a level of communications tools, which can then be used to reach new audiences (and new dollars).
Focus Your Giving
It’s impossible to be everything for everyone. So focus on the social issue you care most about, the geographic area that is most important or the population you wish to affect and give there. This focus will allow you to articulate why, where and how your company can add value to its community. Some companies donate gift certificates only, while others dedicate cash funding to a particular social issue or neighborhood. Nonprofits appreciate this focus – by knowing what you stand for and what your organization chooses to support, it knows how to be better fundraisers. They may not even solicit your organization, or will know how to speak to you in a way that fits with your values. Also, hearing “no” is a lot more palatable when it’s given for a valid and thoughtful reason.
One innovative and local idea is Sequoya Technologies’ Sequoya SeedsTM program. Most simply, when a client subscribes to the company’s managed service plan, they designate a local nonprofit of their own choice to receive a monthly donation equal to 5% of their service fees. For clients that meet a stated threshold of business, an additional grant will be made in the client’s name to their nonprofit of choice. This program now averages approximately $500 in donations monthly. Customer loyalty? Check. Local impact? Check. Scalable with their business? Check.
Be Okay with Telling Your Story
A recent consumer study conducted by Cone Communications found that 88% of consumers “want to know what companies are doing” in sustainability and philanthropy. The most effective places for companies to share their good news stories? Topping the list are in-store signage, on products, and in social media. This means that consumers want to hear about your commitments, values and accomplishments as part of your existing communications efforts to consumers. These are communication vehicles that small businesses are already using to reach target audiences. Rather than thinking of philanthropy story-telling as yet another thing to do, consider it part of your overall brand story.
The perfect place to start is by telling your story via our Just One Thing campaign! Ask your employees to share one thing about your company that they're proud to share; they just might give you a different perspective. Send stories to Michelle or go to our Just One Thing webpage to enter your stories or submit your links to YouTube.
Our Just One Thing Media Sponsor, New Hampshire Business Review will help us to tell your story beginning later this spring. Don't miss the chance to share your stories - send them now!