‘Tis the season for giving, and for most small business owners, that means ‘it’s the season for charity requests. Small businesses want to make a difference in their community, so the most challenging aspect typically isn’t deciding whether to give, it’s deciding where to direct your dollars.
Here are four questions that can help you evaluate where to place your charitable giving dollars this holiday season:
1. Is it a cause your employees can get behind?
Employees might be more willing to participate if they have helped select the charity. “Consider having the owner narrow the requests to a few charities and have them presented to the employees, who can then vote on which organization to support,” says Jenelle Clinton, a fundraising consultant in Portland, Oregon. A positive byproduct, she adds, is that even charities that don’t end up receiving the company donation may benefit by sharing their story with employees who might choose to give on their own.
You can also give preference to charities that have a logical connection to your employee or customer base. For example, if an employee is undergoing cancer treatment or has a child with special needs, raising money for a related group can make them feel supported. Or find a group that aligns with your business model. A real estate firm might work with an organization like Habitat for Humanity, or a food processer could donate to a hunger-related charity.
“Articulate your firm’s authentic philanthropic passions, and look for charitable causes that align with your company’s values and product or services,” says Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, an online charity evaluator.
Look for financially strong, accountable and transparent charities, says Miniutti. Research the financial health of charities at websites like Charity Navigator or GuideStar and learn about a charity’s accomplishments, goals, and challenges by reviewing its own website or talking with staff, suggests Miniutti. “They should be able to tell you about the quality and depth of their results, not just the number of activities or people served.”
3. Can you donate in ways other than money?
“The typical corporation gives away one percent of its pre-tax profits, a rule of thumb that smaller businesses can also use to guide their philanthropic pursuits,” says Miniutti. However, she suggests using that as a starting point and then seeing if you can increase that percentage by augmenting your cash gifts with product or service donations, known as “in-kind donations.”
A clothing company might gift coats to a kids’ charity, or an advertising or graphic design firm could provide services to a nonprofit that needs them, suggests Clinton. Another option is to involve employees as volunteers. If your charity of choice is a food bank, employees can help sort donated goods or assemble food boxes.
4. Is there an opportunity for an ongoing relationship?
Donating at the holidays feels good, but charities need support all year long. That’s why it might be wise to choose a cause that you can align with in ways other than just making a one-time, fourth-quarter gift, suggests Clinton. A children’s charity might need money for holiday gifts now, but might welcome employees holding a school supply drive in the fall or volunteering with an after-school “buddy program.” By becoming more entwined with a charity, you’ll foster stronger bonds that can increase support and interest among your employees and customers.
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