Help the neighborhood with limited resources and maximum return

Small businesses need to manage their time and financial resources carefully; typically, they don’t have hours or dollars to spare outside of ensuring that their clients are satisfied with their service or products, or drumming up new business. So, when business owners are solicited to donate or volunteer, it’s not surprising that their first reaction might be, “I can’t afford it,” or, “What’s in it for me?”

Sometimes, they’re apprehensive to make a charitable donation out of fear that it will trigger a flood of solicitations for more help—and naturally, people tend to dislike saying no.

It’s time to reframe thinking about community involvement, because there’s good news: even small companies can make it work, and the benefits they can reap are plentiful.

It’s time to reframe thinking about community involvement, because there’s good news: even small companies can make it work, and the benefits they can reap are plentiful.

Megan Beste is a community relations consultant with Taggart Associates in Bethlehem, Pa., which helps companies make an impact in the community. Her clients include Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem and Talen Energy in Allentown, Pa.

Beste advises her clients to reframe their motivation for partnering with their communities: it’s not necessarily “marketing,” and they cannot expect immediate, measurable return on investment. Unlike website analytics or call-tracking programs that show a direct referral path or conversion and produce quantifiable metrics, it is more difficult to track the results of corporate citizenship. It’s more subtle, with brand awareness and positive association as the goals.

“It’s part of the bigger picture for your brand—it’s not going to be measurable,” Beste says.

But, it is worthwhile.

Benefits of Community Partnerships

Community partnerships create a touch point, so that sometime in the future, a person who needs a company’s product or service might say, “I’ve heard of them.” If marketing is a motivating factor, companies should identify an organization to benefit that can likely refer business to them.

Being active in the community positions a company as a community partner and demonstrates to its clients that they care about the place where their employees and customers live.

Being active in the community positions a company as a community partner and demonstrates to its clients that they care about the place where their employees and customers live.

Besides generating new leads, a hidden benefit of this perception is improved employee recruitment and retention. When competing for the best and the brightest job candidates, this can make a business stand apart from its competition.

Take, for example, the woman seeking a position as a bookkeeper who chooses to apply to the contracting company that donated materials for her son’s Boy Scout troop project, Beste suggests.

Leadership development, employee engagement and team building are among the primary benefits that Beste touts for investing time to benefit a community organization or event. Volunteering together builds a sense of camaraderie among employees, and it makes them feel good about representing a company that supports important causes.

Beste helps clients identify opportunities for their employees to serve on nonprofits’ boards of directors. This experience provides meaningful networking for professionals, especially if they are paired with an organization that matches their personal interests or passions.

“When people do something they’re passionate about, they do their best work, they let their personality shine through, and they truly gain skills and appreciation for the community that they may not experience while sitting behind a desk all day,” Beste says.

Ways to Get Involved

A common way to support the community is to work with nonprofit organizations, such as the food bank in town, or local branches of national organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association.

Contractors could do work for area nonprofits. For example, if the furnace at the women’s shelter breaks down, they can donate their time to fix it, or offer handyman services. During their slow season, they can take on a project to benefit a community organization.

Company employees can participate in a fundraising walk to benefit a good cause. They should wear branded apparel so that their presence is visible.

“What we try to do is help business owners identify the organizations that are most meaningful to them in the community,” Beste says.

For example, a restaurant that thinks it’s important for kids to eat healthy meals and try nutritious foods doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel and develop an elaborate program. It can send a representative to the local food policy council that’s already working on ensuring that children get lunch every day during their summer vacation, when they aren’t receiving free or reduced school lunches. Get involved by attending a meeting, and from there, figure out what the company’s or an employee’s role could be.

Another, less time-intensive approach is to donate a company service or product as a silent auction item, such as a gift certificate for an air conditioner tune-up. If the auction winner takes advantage of the offer and has a good experience with the company, he or she could become a loyal customer, write a good review, and perhaps refer his or her friends and family.

Allowing employees to participate in career education for children or older students is an opportunity that requires minimal resources.

Allowing employees to participate in career education for children or older students is an opportunity that requires minimal resources. Taking time off from work to volunteer in the community does have some effect on the bottom line, especially for companies that rely on the billable hour—so the time spent needs to be meaningful, and it needs to be managed. Most likely, not everyone in the office can be out at the same time. So, volunteer in shifts, schedule the event during off-hours or plan it on a weekend.

Graphic D-Signs client Blanton’s Heating & Air of Fayetteville, S.C., in March 2014 founded a program called “Answer the Call,” which invites its customers and neighbors to nominate area charities and organizations worthy of attention, recognition and support. The winner receives a $500 check and a personal visit from the HVAC company, along with a social media shout-out. The interactive process of nominating and voting for the winner boosts the exposure that Blanton’s enjoys for doing this good deed.

To maximize the benefits of these efforts, a company should ask the organizations it supports to acknowledge the contributions in their newsletter or on their website or social media accounts.

Join Forces

When businesses team up with the groups that are working hard to make their neighborhoods a better place, everyone wins. With a healthy perspective and by employing the aforementioned strategies, companies can allocate resources without breaking the bank, and enjoy the benefits of both a strong, positive reputation in their community and strong morale and team spirit in the workplace.