BY ROB SMENTEK
Whether it’s through a limo ride for a child in need, a holiday toy drive, or a charity auction dinner, getting your company involved with philanthrophic work can be invaluable for creating a positive culture within your company.
Supporting a charity year-round with your staff—and even clients—by taking an active role in the efforts can not only benefit the community, but also strengthen your team.
But choosing a charitable organization—or several—for your company to rally behind isn’t as easy as finding an address and writing a check: It requires research, feedback from your employees, and some commitment. So, if you’re a small business looking to support a local cause or a large operation considering backing a major nonprofit, follow these suggestions before you start raising funds or offering to volunteer.
1. Determine what’s important to you ... and your staff
Often, but not always, companies choose those charities that resonate personally with the owner, either through a family connection or a friend. Is there a cause or service that’s important to you? Do you have a family member or employee affected by a particular illness or disease? Is there a school or organization in your community that could use help? Once you’ve narrowed down the field, reach out to your employees. While everyone certainly is willing to help a good cause, your employees will be passionate about one that they’ve been supporting on their own. Get buy-in from your staff, and then make a list of charities that coincide with your interests.
“Picking a charity requires research, feedback from your employees, and some commitment.”
2. Research, research, research
While it may initially seem a bit cynical to investigate a non-profit, you’ll want to be sure that you’re giving your money and time to an organization that’s tax-exempt, financially healthy, and transparent—but also one that is using your donations wisely to support its beneficiaries rather than feed bloated administrative costs. There are a number of internet resources available such as givewell.org and charitywatch.org that allow you to determine whether the charity is on the level and see the percentage of funds that goes directly to the cause. Also, don’t be afraid to Google the charity and read any positive or negative press being published about it, which could raise red flags. Next, do an apple-to-apple comparison of each organization to ensure which will get the most benefit from your donation.
Businesses are frequently solicited by charities for monetary or vehicle donations, especially if you have a reputation for giving, so you’ll want to ensure that your dollars are making it to the intended recipients. If it’s a cold call, there’s no shame in telling the solicitor that you want to do your research before committing, and a reputable charity will offer to send you more information. In any case, it’s worthwhile to speak with a representative of a charity prior to engaging in fundraising to get insight into how well the charity is run. Moreover, if you’re looking to partner with a local organization, or a local branch of a national charity, you’ll certainly want to develop a one-on-one relationship.
3. How will you contribute?
Once you’ve chosen a nonprofit, you need to determine how and what you’re going to donate. Are you looking to do a one-time seasonal event or are you looking to create a yearlong project? Is your company looking to donate time to a soup kitchen or considering a cash donation? Discuss the options with your employees to figure out the best and most effective way to contribute. You also may want to encourage client participation—invite them to charity events or fundraisers or ask for a prize for an auction.
It goes without saying, but it’s also wise to speak with your accountant regarding charitable causes. He’ll be able to provide you with your giving budget as well as the lowdown on the potential tax benefits for you and the business that come with a charitable donation.
One more quick note: Charitable giving and volunteerism is often highest around the year-end holidays or months that celebrate the cause (e.g., October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month), but charities often need assistance every day of the year, especially for those that involve daily needs like soup kitchens or children’s hospitals. Charity leaders will be grateful for your efforts any time of the year, but you’ll be a hero for volunteering on a random Tuesday in July.
4. Follow your investment
After you’ve made your contribution—financial or otherwise—follow up with the charity in six months to see how your donation is being used. If you raised cash for a specific foundation, a responsible organization will be able to share a progress report or a financial statement. If you’re looking to see specific results, think about giving to a community-sourced project (e.g., new playground equipment, toy drive, etc.). Once you’ve gained assurance that you’re making an impact, make a commitment to support their work for the long haul. Long-term supporters are vital to a charity’s success, and your partnership can be mutually beneficial. Sponsorship not only helps the non-profit continue its work, it also is an effective marketing tool.
There are virtually infinite ways you can choose to help your community: You could dress as Santa and deliver toys in a minibus filled with elves. Perhaps you’ll co-sponsor and volunteer at a local fundraising event. Or maybe you’ll prefer to quietly support a food bank with quarterly cash donations. Regardless of the track you choose, supporting a charity can be both rewarding and fun for your business. Just remember to make a bit of effort so that your contribution finds its way to the right place. [CD0617]