As a small business owner, you are a vital part of your community. Your importance extends well beyond providing goods and services to your customers, jobs for your employees, and contributions to the local economy — small businesses help form the backbone of their communities, making them vibrant places to live and work.
That’s why it’s so important for businesses to get involved with their local communities and give back to the people who support them. Staying involved with local organizations benefits everyone: your business builds a positive reputation and gains invaluable public relations and marketing exposure through community involvement, while local people know that they have the support of their business community and the help they need to accomplish their goals.
In fact, community involvement has become one of the most important facets of any successful business. According to research from Cone Communications, a company’s commitment to supporting causes is a key factor in consumers’ purchase decisions. More than half of consumers polled indicated that they purchased a product associated with a cause in the previous year, and 89%said they would switch brands in order to support a specific cause.
Clearly, supporting causes and getting involved is important, but where should you start? Any company can find creative and effective ways to give back, but here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Volunteer as a Company
Volunteering together as a company, whether it’s spending a day working on an outdoor cleanup project, helping out at a local food pantry, or forming a team for a fundraising walk is a great way to support your local organizations and the development of your workforce. Devoting time to a company-wide volunteer project can foster stronger relationships between coworkers by creating shared experiences, while also possibly revealing skills you didn’t realize people had. Coordinating regular volunteer opportunities can also attract new talent to your company. Younger employees especially are looking for career opportunities where they have the chance to make a difference and want to work for companies that are committed to social responsibility.
To make company volunteer projects meaningful, consider partnering with a specific organization to provide ongoing services. Engage employees by selecting an organization that aligns with your company’s mission and values, and that your team can feel passionate about supporting.
2. Hold a Contest or Giveaway
Sponsoring a contest or giveaway can help build name recognition in your community while also benefiting customers and potential customers. Consider relating the contest to a specific cause; for example, you might sponsor an essay or poster contest for children related to an issue like texting and driving or the environment, with prizes for the best entries in different age groups. Or you might provide branded giveaways at specific events as part of a sponsorship agreement. For example, a charity golf tournament would likely appreciate water bottles to hand out to participants.
However you decide to support your community with a contest or giveaway, keep a few best practices in mind:
- Provide value. The giveaway prize for participation should be something of value that recipients will want to receive.
- Reward everyone. If you opt for a contest, give all participants something in exchange for participating, such as a discount coupon.
- Follow all applicable local laws. Some states or cities prohibit certain types of giveaways or promotions.
3. Donate to Local Organizations
One of the easiest ways to make a difference in your community is to donate to local organizations. This might mean sponsoring a youth sports team, purchasing advertising space in event programs, or providing free goods or services to organizations when requested. Making donations can go a long way toward supporting goodwill in the community while making a direct impact on the organizations you support.
4. Teach a Class
Your business can be a powerful educational resource for your community. If practical, open your facility to field trips and provide guided tours to school classes or other groups (like 4-H or Scouts). Or, consider providing educational classes to the community: A bakery might offer cake decorating workshops, or a wine shop could provide seminars on wine and food pairings. Be creative. You might be surprised at what your team can teach the community.
In addition to community outreach, by partnering with local trade schools and community colleges, you can become a valuable source of training to help tradespeople earn their licenses and create a pipeline for skilled workers. Consider developing an apprenticeship program for your contracting business, for example. By working directly with local education programs, you can help train the next generation of contractors while showing off your business to prospective employees. Establishing solid relationships with schools demonstrates your commitment to both your community and your industry, and helps support positive associations with your business.
5. Sponsor Community Events
Community organizations are always looking for generous sponsors who are willing to support their efforts. Sponsorships can be financial, or you might provide an “in-kind” donation of equipment, time, or space. For example, your company might sponsor a local youth sports team. Depending on your sponsorship level, you might receive anything from an advertisement in a program to your company name on the league T-shirts. And it’s not just sports: Your business can sponsor fundraisers, community gatherings like festivals and fairs, school groups, and more.
6. Participate in Community Events
Sponsoring community events and making donations to help them run smoothly aren’t the only ways your business can participate in community events. Actually showing up and being a part of the event can support your profile in the community. This might look like volunteering at the event as a team or setting up a table or booth to engage with attendees. While having your business name and logo visible throughout the event can help build recognition and awareness among the community, actually being present can help people get to know you and your team, and learn more about what you do.
7. Host an Event
Attending events hosted by other organizations can build your reputation locally, but don’t hesitate to create your own opportunities as well. Hosting an open house with giveaways, free food, and entertainment will draw customers to your business and give them a chance to see what you have to offer. If you have the space, host an event for families to raise money for a charitable organization; for instance, you might have a holiday event in the winter, or a spring carnival with activities for kids. Such events give your team a chance to flex their creative muscles and give back to the community while getting your name out there.
Community events aren’t your only option, either. Work with your local Chamber of Commerce or other business organizations to host one of their events. Provisioning space for meetings, networking events, job fairs, or other gatherings can strengthen your network with other businesses in the community, and your reputation for commitment to everyone’s success. This is especially beneficial if you are opening a new business, or if you’ve expanded or moved to a new location, as it gives people a chance to learn more about you and see your new space.
8. Attend Local Government Meetings
Finally, staying involved in your community isn’t always about promoting your services or attracting new business. Being involved also means letting your voice be heard in local government. City leaders are often faced with challenges that can potentially affect businesses, and your input and feedback are vital to developing solutions that everyone can live with. Whether it’s questions about traffic flow and parking or how to respond to community emergencies (such as a pandemic like COVID-19), your opinion is important. Attending meetings and participating in government processes ensures that you have a voice in the decision-making process, and shows that you are committed to the community and making it the best place it can be.