We all understand it is good to give back to our communities, whether by donating time or money. But many small business owners overlook the multiple benefits that come from community involvement, including:
- A sense of pride -- knowing you've done a good deed and helped others;
- Your employees' perception of you -- your commitment and generosity;
- Public image -- the positive PR created by giving.
These are only a few reasons to get involved. So why not get your staff involved, too?
Employees who are given the opportunity to volunteer, even if they do not participate, will appreciate the flexibility and freedom you have afforded them. Your goodwill effort will pay off in better relationships with staff and less stress in the office. I have had many small business owners tell me they would love to participate in community events and allow staff to do so, but felt they could not afford the cost or the lost staff time.
It doesn't have to be so burdensome. Here are some low-cost, minimal time investment activities you and your employees can participate in:
1. Volunteer through your local chamber of commerce.
Your time commitment can be from one hour to several weeks. Giving your staff flextime, such as letting them leave the office an hour early for after-hours commitments, is one way to empower them and encourage participation. Send them to these volunteer activities with plenty of business cards to give out when striking up conversations.
2. Teach classes, participate in mentoring or provide technical assistance to small businesses.
Contact your local Small Business Development Center at 225-6910 or the Central Ohio Minority Business Association at 252-8005 about volunteering your expertise.
3. Consider giving back through SCORE.
If you or someone you know, has been a business professional for many years and is close to retiring or has retired, check into the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). This group, which can be reached at 469-2357, is made up of retired business professionals and owners who volunteer their time to counsel small businesses.
4. Help your library.
Donate time at summer reading programs, do mailings or help decorate during special events. Work booths at an author visit or book sale. Donate carpet squares for children to sit on, or craft supplies. Place advertisements in your storefront.
Teach at a library program. Include a stuffer for library activities in your mailings. Donate cash, contribute food for special events and give prizes or even coupons for discounted services/products.
5. Serve others less fortunate than you.
Neighborhood Services is an emergency food pantry for families and children in the Ohio State University area. Have a canned food drive to keep this pantry, or others, stocked.
Another idea is to raise money for the Homeless Families Foundation. Be a "Family Friend" by giving budgeting advice, providing transportation or just being a supportive, listening ear. Also, since it is early in the year, start now to raise money for the Max Gaunce Fund, which buys toys for underprivileged children in Columbus during the holidays.
Create your own "Kringle Project." Invite friends to donate money, go shopping for the toys and hold a toy wrapping party. The toys are given to Neighborhood Services, which distributes them during the holidays to families in need.
6. Volunteer for a board or committee.
Organizations like the Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training (225-6910), the North Market in downtown Columbus and other area business associations are always looking for a few good volunteers.
7. Be a Big Brother/Big Sister.
The recommended commitment is twelve months, meeting twice a month. The time you spend can be just a few hours a month to as much as you'd like to commit. This organization can be reached at 839-2447.
8. Donate time to your neighborhood association.
These groups are concerned with alleviating crime in local communities, beautification of neighborhoods, creating improvements in local infrastructure, traffic safety and small business issues. Call your city's development department for contacts and phone numbers.
9. Donate items you no longer use -- but others could.
AmVets (431-6990), Goodwill (294-5181) and the Salvation Army (221-6561) are among the local non-profit organizations that collect gently used household items. Local religious organizations may have opportunities to donate to food and clothing pantries, too.
These are only a few of the local groups you can donate time or resources to. Regardless of where you invest your efforts, ask plenty of questions and research the organization. Make sure it fits with your goals and objectives. Make the most of your efforts. Let employees participate in the decision-making process and in the commitment.
Finally, keep in mind that PR from a good deed is not a bad thing. Let your customers know how they can contribute to your goodwill enterprises. Do a write up on your activity and put it in your newsletter or other publications to your clients or target markets.
If it is appropriate, send a press release to your local newspaper about the activity and your involvement. This is good publicity for both you and the organization that you are helping.
If you made a New Year's resolution list, add public service to it. Just one commitment to your community can make an impact. Our collective efforts will make the difference. Andrea Brocklehurst is marketing director of Columbus Countywide Development Corp.