April is National Volunteer Month making it an excellent time to review your company’s volunteer and other charitable efforts.
Of course, doing the right thing is the best reason for small businesses to give back to their communities. But it’s good for business, too—77% of consumers are motivated to purchase from companies committed to making the world a better place, according to a report on corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Volunteering is one way of giving back. It’s best to create a plan for your company’s volunteer efforts. And make sure you involve your employees and ask them if there are any causes/places they would like to donate some time to. Think about giving your employees a day off with pay if they spend it volunteering locally.
There are numerous places in your community that would welcome your volunteer efforts. You can participate in community events, like serving meals in soup kitchens or joining Big Brothers/Bis Sisters.
Or you can tailor your volunteer efforts to causes related to your business. For instance, if your business is kid-related, think about starting a summer reading program at your store (it doesn’t have to be a bookstore for this to be effective). If your company sells products or provides services to pet owners, consider volunteering at an animal shelter. In the construction business? Check out organizations like Habitat for Humanity and help build houses for those in need.
When you volunteer, you’re giving the gift of your time. Suppose you’re in the B2B world. In that case, you can offer to build websites, design logos, do the books, etc., for local businesses. You can also do that by giving workshops, sharing your skills, reading to the elderly, giving makeovers to women trying to reenter the workforce, and coaching local youth sports teams.
You can also donate products. What does your local food bank need? Give your excess inventory to shelters for homeless people or battered women and children. If you don’t sell those types of items, organize clothing , household goods, toys, holiday gifts, or book drive.
Of course, you can send money to any charity or good cause. But you can also sponsor local sports teams by donating money or paying for their equipment or uniforms. Mimic school fund-raising programs (which you can also sponsor) and donate a portion of your revenues a day, a week, or a month to a good cause. You can support the same organization every time or switch it up. My small company of two donates $100 a month to causes that personally matter to us, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer research, and autism programs.
Sponsor local residents if they participate in races/walks for charity. Let your customers know you’ll donate up to a specific amount a month to these activities.
Caring for the Planet
Consumers are particularly attuned to environmental issues these days, especially millennials and Generation Z. Depending on where you live, you can donate and help plant trees in local parks or neighborhoods or help clean up the beach, park, or playground.
Make sure your business participates in local recycling programs.
Plan Your Program
As I mentioned, it’s essential to have a plan when you start your CSR activities and involve your whole team. And you can try to get your customers on board as well. You can tell them what you’re doing (such as beach clean-up day) and see if they want to help. If you do this, it’s better to hang up signs in your stores, offices, or restaurants—asking them directly could be awkward.
If you run an online business that primarily serves a national audience, you can choose to support a national charity. Again, ask your employees what causes are important to them. Before you decide on a worthy cause, check them out with CharityNavigator to determine how much of your contributions go to helping people and how much goes to administrative expenses. One caveat: don’t advertise your CSR. Several years ago, a study on the “halo effect” showed that the good will companies got from customers for their CSR efforts diminished when the businesses blatantly marketed their activities. Using social media to promote the cause shows people you care without seeming crass about it.
Don’t think you can’t participate because you can only afford to donate a small amount of money or a short amount of time. Every little bit counts.
And speaking of volunteers, make sure you’re taking advantage of tapping the expertise and skills of the wonderful SCORE mentors, who all volunteer their time to help you start, run, or scale your business. If you have a mentor, maybe give them a shout-out during National Volunteer Month. You can connect with a SCORE mentor today if you don't have one.