Want your business to leave a legacy but not sure where to begin? Here’s a roadmap of how to get involved with charity.

JANUARY 09, 2012Lead Article ImageYou feel a nudge to have your business make a difference, leave a legacy or change the world. You’ve dismissed the idea of giving away your possessions and moving to a faraway place to serve the destitute. Your idea now is to connect with a charity in your hometown. If you’re not sure where to begin, here’s a roadmap for getting involved in a charity.

Choose your charity

Find and embrace a charity that means something to your business. The relationship ought to make sense in terms of one of these areas.

  • Products and services. Donated products and pro bono services can directly benefit clients of a charitable organization. They can also be sold to raise funds for the charity.
  •  Target audiences. Your customers and business prospects are interested in the charity’s mission or enjoy its special events, such as its formal luncheons or 5K races.
  •  Personal interest. You are inspired by a cause or excited about activities promoted by a charity.

Selecting a charity because of personal interest may seem irrelevant. But the causes that mean the most to you often serve as the best platform for attracting and engaging people.

Intuitive connections between your business and the charity are important, but they are less significant than the packaging and promotion of your company’s involvement. Promote your business’s tactics for getting attention and solving problems.

Consider ways to advance the cause

After you have selected a charity, find ways to get involved. You’ll find two kinds of opportunities.

  • Serving clients of a charitable organization.
  • Providing support to the charitable organization.

Depending on your choice, you or your business may do one or more things.

  • Donate goods or services.
  • Donate all or a percentage of proceeds from the sale of a particular item or sales event.
  • Serve as a volunteer, committee chairperson, advocate or board member.
  • Sponsor, host or participate in an event at your business site or another location.

As a business owner, your charitable activities can involve rallying and organizing your employees, customers and community members to support the cause.

For example, you may form a team of employees and customers for a charity walk. You might designate your business to serve as a drop-off site for donations from community members. Or, you could host a service project and solicit volunteers from your employees, customers, vendors and community members.

Don’t pressure people to make sacrifices on your behalf. In other words, don’t ask employees to volunteer on their days off for your favorite cause. Encourage involvement and consider offering incentives for participation.

Be creative

Think creatively when you’re crafting a plan for your business’s involvement with a charity. Get inspired by what other small businesses are doing.

  • A pediatric dental practice holds a Halloween candy buy-back program and donates candy to Operation Gratitude for U.S. military troops. It also joins charity walks and runs benefiting children’s programs, and sponsors a little league team.
  • A legal firm sponsors a safe, sober prom night program for local high schools.
  • A vineyard hosts a charity bicycle ride benefiting a raptor-rehabilitation organization. Event registration includes an opt-in to the business’s e-mail distribution list. Event-day activities include the release of a rehabilitated falcon and wine tasting.
  • A running coach offers a free training program to survivors of gynecological cancer to prepare them for a local 5K race. The race is organized by an oncologist to benefit cancer patients.
  • A stationer and gift shop hosts a limited-seating, RSVP-only holiday gift-wrapping party that serves low-income residents.

You can promote various events and activities on the business’s website and social-media pages, as well as through e-mail newsletters and traditional media outlets.

Avoid pitfalls

Getting involved in a charity, although admirable, has pitfalls. Being recognized as a community-minded business will make your company the focus of charitable requests. To make sure that charitable involvement positions your business favorably while protecting its profits, devise and execute a strategy for philanthropy.

  • Identify a main event or a specific cause that people associate with your business. Create a calendar of activities that engages people during the holiday season and throughout the year.
  • Develop a policy for other requests. For example, offer a standard gift for all fund-raising events or ask that donation requests be submitted in writing by a certain deadline for the upcoming year.

Accept serendipity

The approach I recommend involves both strategy and serendipity. You set the direction for charitable activity for the strategic component. The serendipitous aspect is a reminder that it’s not about ROI. Expecting a return on your investment will lead to disappointment, but pleasant surprises will most likely occur.