When Doing Good
Leads to Doing Well
by Wendy Priesnitz

Q: Our micro-business receives frequent requests to contribute money, goods or staff time to community groups and projects. These are all worthy causes and I certainly understand the value of a good profile in our community, but are these activities a positive use of our very limited resources? And if we do decide to become involved in something, how do we decide if the project is right for us?

A: The bottom line is that a project must benefit not just the community but your business as well. You need a focus beyond simply doing good. So the first thing you should do is to establish some guiding principles for your company's community involvement.

Decide how charity work and sponsorship fit in with your strategic goals. Don't expect a direct financial impact. Community involvement often builds employee satisfaction and other intangibles, but rarely creates new business directly. In addition to feeling good, you can expect to gain exposure for your company, enhance your public image, increase customer loyalty and encourage a greater sense of service in your staff.

Set up a process for reviewing requests and making decisions. Whether this process involves you or a screening committee that includes employees, it must use consistent criteria so decisions can be justified to community groups and staff members. Establish a policy about supporting controversial causes that might alienate customers and about the size of cash donations, which could adversely affect your profitability.

It is important to make a commitment you can live with. Start small, with simple efforts that involve no capital outlay. This gives you a risk-free way to acquaint yourself with the time and planning requirements involved and to determine what your business can comfortably handle.

The ways your small business can help your community are numerous. In addition to direct cash donations, you can donate products or services - such as bookkeeping, newsletter or advertising design, or training. Product donations can range from day-old bakery goods provided to feeding programs at local churches, to computers for programs for teens on welfare, to a door prize for a group's annual meeting. Or you could even donate the use of your parking lot for a fundraising car wash.

No matter how you get involved, you'll find that if you give back to the community, your generosity will always come back to you and your small business in a positive way.


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