As the owner of a small but highly successful New York City-based custom tailoring company, Mohan “Michael” Ramchandani appreciates the fact he was able to achieve the proverbial “American dream.” Having come to the U.S. in 1972 from India with very little means save for drive and determination, Ramchandani launched Mohan’s Custom Tailors over 30 years ago in a modest rented space. Since then, the family business, which began with just him and now boasts a staff of 12 including sons and nephews, has grown in a way that belies its humble roots. Currently housed in a showroom in a high-rise building across from Grand Central Station and catering to celebrity clients such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Mohan’s Custom Tailors brings in annual revenues of over $400,000. But Ramchandani has never forgotten his early struggles.
Because of this, Mohan's Custom Tailors started this past January a donation program with the Brooklyn-based group, The HOPE Program, an organization that empowers New Yorkers living in poverty and battling obstacles such as lack of self-esteem, semi-literacy and addiction, to enter the workforce. Mohan's donates custom clothing—interview suits and shirts, valued at over $1,000 a piece—plus many hours of his staffs’ tailoring time to graduates who complete their job training program and are ready to begin their interview process. For most of these men, the suits Mohan’s donates will be the first suit they own.
“I have always felt deeply connected to those, like me, who are searching to start out their lives and make a living in order to provide for their families,” says Ramchandani. “The HOPE students and graduates are hard-working and dedicated to succeeding, which is a value we share.”
For Ramchandani, the pairing of his business with The HOPE program is a natural fit. Not only is it an extension of what he does professionally, it also fulfills a deep visceral need within him to help others less fortunate succeed. It is a textbook example of a business-charity partnership that makes sense, feels organic, and gives back to the community.
For any small business, teaming up with a charity can be an excellent way of doing good, while expanding your reach to a new audience. However, you want your affiliation with a cause to feel sincere and natural. Aligning your business with a charity or sponsorship just because it’s what everyone else is doing will never work unless you show genuine conviction.
Small business entrepreneurs seeking to find a charity or community sponsorship that is the right fit should the following dos and don’ts:
Do your due diligence and research the charity
Don’t just sign up with a charity or sponsorship because an acquaintance told you about it. Do your homework and find out as much as you can about the organization. Who is on their board? Ask to look at their financials.
“Too many charities are only charitable to their employees,” cautions Pablo Solomon, co-owner of musee-solomon, a small art and design firm outside of Austin. Solomon, who has been in business for more than 20 years, knows whereof he speaks. Over the years, he has aligned his firm with several local charities and, along the way, has learned several lessons about what a small business should watch out for. “[Some charities] only use a small percentage of what they take in for the actual cause,” he warns. “A good charity will spend 80 to 95 percent.”
Find a cause or charity you are genuinely passion about
In Mohan’s Custom Tailors’ case, it was a program that resonated with the owner because it reminded him of his humble beginnings and how much success he’d achieved in his adoptive country. However, even if you don’t have such a personal connection with a charity you’re interested in supporting, make sure you have a passion for it. That enthusiasm will be contagious and spill over into your employees, business partners, and customers. By feeling your keen devotion to the charity, they may be more inclined to give a donation.
For Michael Macias, co-founder of the Fresno, California-based urban clothing startup, Inner City Threads, that passion translates into helping local homeless shelters. Macias, who headed his own PR and marketing firm for three years before selling it, first got interested in this cause when he volunteered at the San Diego Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter and recovery center.
“I was talking to the fundraising director there and learned that they did a lot of fundraising events but not a lot of grants came in to fund their program or services,” recalls Macias. “I’m a big believer for helping people who are less fortunate than myself. So when my partners and I got together and said we wanted to start a business [which became Inner City Threads], it really came down to where my heart was—for all of us. And that’s how we decided we would work with homeless shelters.”
Proving that he’s not all talk, Inner City Threads donates 30 percent of its net profits to several homeless shelters across the state of California.
Look to the market that purchases your product or services
For instance, if you sell pet products, then it might make good sense to support your local animal shelter. However, don’t approach them because you think they’re going to market your product or services for you.
“That’s really not the reason why you’re out to partner up with an organization,” says Macias. “You’re doing it because you care about the community or the service they provide,” not for the marketing muscle they could bring.
Pick a charity that has a good industry and community reputation
Supporting a charity with a checkered history may make others question your integrity. Be careful and use some forethought when selecting which causes you want to support.
Whatever cause or charity you choose, consider the appeal of those that are nonpartisan. By aligning yourself with a political or religious organization, you may risk alienating customers and potential ones.
Drop any charity that does not acknowledge your efforts/donations
“We once donated art worth real money and did not get so much as a thank you note—not to mention getting zero recognition,” remembers Solomon. “When the people running a charity are this clueless and ungrateful, dump them.”
Be sure the charity respects your privacy
Many nonprofits are so eager for donations, says Craig Rollins, CEO of LJCooper Wealth Advisors, that very often they will sell a donor’s info to another.
“A business must be careful to not get caught taking care of ‘stray cats,’ cautions Rollins. “Once a business determines which non-profit or charity they wish to serve, ask the charity to keep their information private. This isn't to say you can't take advantage of marketing opportunities for public events. Just ask [the charity] not to sell your contact info to anyone else. Taking care of a pet project is fun; listening to the bawling of dozens of stray cats is not.”
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