The business side of building and maintaining a successful company takes a lot of energy. Add in additional responsibilities like family, home maintenance and special interests, and it makes for a pretty full schedule for a business owner. For most small business owners, however, the work that they do is about more than turning a profit. The ideals of a business and the ideals of its owner are often interchangeable. Finding ways to run a socially conscious business is important to many owners. For some, this means selling locally-made items or only using fair-trade materials. For others, social consciousness is reinforcing your small business’ core values in the form of community outreach and charitable donations.
If you are looking for ways to give back under the umbrella of your company name, here are some tips to get started:
Create a budget. Decide how much money you can afford to donate in a given year, along with how many hours of time you and your employees will volunteer. If there is a service or product that you can donate, add up how much is feasible. Figure out if you can give your employees paid time off to volunteer, and if so, how much time? When you start out, you may find that you are only able to give a small amount of money and time. Do not let this discourage you though. Every little bit helps and over time, you may find ways to be even more generous.
Do your research. Even if you think that you know what each charity and non-profit organization stands for, dig a little bit deeper. Find out what percentage of the proceeds go directly to the cause, if there are any exclusions to who receives aid and what is at the heart of the organization’s mission. Sometimes in your research you will find that some good causes are using innovative ways for people to donate. Just remember, if you are attaching your company name to these activities, you want them to reflect your own beliefs as an individual and member of the business community.
Set an example. While it is great to encourage employees to volunteer, and even provide incentives, the best way to get everyone in your company fired up for service is by getting out there and participating yourself. You do not have to draw huge amounts of attention to the act, but be visible. Put on a pair of gloves and clean up trash in a local park. Dish out meals to those who are hungry in your community. Sort food and supplies for disaster relief. Do more than simply embrace the idea of service; make the service happen.
Build a brand-specific initiative. Whenever possible, build your small business brand by establishing a specific service initiative with your business. Do not just show up during community events and blend in with the other volunteers or send a check to a general fund once per month. The founder of the popular bakery and restaurant Panera Bread wanted to find a way to address hunger issues in communities where he had locations. Instead of simply giving money to established hunger charities, Ron Shaich and other company leaders developed Panera Cares, an innovative approach to providing a restaurant-style meal to those that cannot pay. Figure out ways that you can do the same thing on a smaller scale. Talk with directors of these organizations in order to come up with a schedule or specialized fund that has your name attached. While promotion is certainly not the main reason to reach out, committing your company to a cause and then backing it up brings a greater responsibility, and return. If there is a way to incorporate themes of your business into the service, that’s even better.
It can be easy to get caught up in the everyday routine of running a company and forget about the other things that make your business valuable to the community at large. Creating a culture of social responsibility starts with your example. Look for innovative ways to combine your personal outreach goals with those of your business.
Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes in editing business news. ChamberofCommerce.com helps business on the web with their effective tools for businesses.