As a small business consultant I have the honor of getting to know my clients on a personal basis.
This is mostly unavoidable as we are typically engaged in a challenging exercise to turn a business around or take advantage of significant growth opportunities. Understanding what is important to a client on a personal level helps shape many of the goals we set for the company. Increasingly, business owners have an interest in being socially responsible and are motivated to find ways to get their business to a level where it can make significant contributions to causes which they support.
The first step toward increasing your ability to do good deeds for your special causes is to do well for your business. I find that adding a line or two on the income statement for projected contributions to charities and other non-profit organizations makes the sentiment real and leads to specific changes in the business to achieve these charitable goals.
When I can I like to get the business owner to describe to the staff the reasons for selecting and supporting certain causes. This is a heartfelt and inspiring experience and can help motive employees to support needed changes to lift company performance. Often this invites conversations about how the company can formalize a charitable giving program to support causes in the community.
One of the first decisions to make is whether your giving program is designed to create a return on the investment (ROI) for the time and funds provided. If an ROI is to be a factor in deciding upon which causes to support, then it needs to be measured. Tracking referrals or collecting coupons from charity events are ways to measure impact. Obtain a tax-exempt letter from charities to support a tax write-off.
When setting up a gifting program to support non-profit causes, one can take a proactive approach and select specific charities or be reactive and field gift requests. Boyne USA Resorts fields requests from the public via an online form that asks for such particulars as tax id, number of attendees, cost to attend the event and its location. Boyne also asks how it will be recognized for its contribution. With hundreds of requests Boyne finds that this is the best way to balance its ROI needs in order to continue to contribute to worthy causes.
The Council of Michigan Foundations, representing over 400 foundations, is a great resource from which to gain knowledge about foundations in our local communities. The council also provides educational support on corporate giving. For example, there is a publication on setting up employee matching charitable contribution programs. One of the best practices referenced in the publication cites GE, Ford and Dow Chemical as matching employee contributions to four-year colleges and universities.
Here is an overview of our local non-profit economy. Excluding health care, Grand Traverse County has approximately 150 non-profit entities spending $150 million per year. Two-thirds of the funds spent are to support basic human services. In order of priority, basic human services supports job creation, housing, community education, health care and food. The other third of local non-profit funds are spent on child education, environmental protection, athletics, arts and special interests.
Formalizing a social responsibility or charitable giving program for your business can be a personally rewarding experience. Such programs can motivate a staff to bring out the best in themselves, the company and our community. Moving from vision to plan to execution when drawn by a desire to help others in our community can be a very worthwhile journey.