Community relations: Targeted giving makes community donations easier

Over the past few weeks I’ve been visiting Web sites for companies that do business in my town. I’ve been recruited to serve on a committee that’s raising funds to build a new town library, and I’ve taken on the task of figuring out how to approach the firms that do business here on the theory that they might want to give back. So I’ve been checking out the Community Relations pages on corporate Web sites, and there’s a lesson to be learned by small business from the Web sites I’ve been visiting. It is this: Targeting your giving makes life a lot simpler.

Businesses of all sizes are asked to donate to worthy causes. Even solopreneurs like me get hit up. And as your business grows and becomes more prominent in your community, these requests will become more frequent. No company can afford to donate to everyone who asks, but turning down a request can feel awkward. But if you have selected one or more specific causes for your giving, saying no becomes easier. All you have to say is, “Your cause is very worthwhile and we wish you luck, but we focus our donations on (fill in the blank), so we won’t be able to donate to your organization.”

This is how big corporations target their giving, and there is no reason you can’t adopt a similar policy for your small business. People who are doing fundraising are usually familiar with targeted giving and aren’t offended when you deny their requests because you have chosen to support a specific issue with your donations.

Find a cause you feel passionate about

When it comes to choosing where you’ll target your funding, pick a topic(s) you feel passionate about. You might ask employees what they’d like to see you target company giving toward. You can blend your giving with employee volunteer opportunities. Donating a day of volunteer work to a charity once a year, for example, can be a great team building exercise for your staff.

Here’s an example. A construction management firm I know about focuses its giving on families who have fallen through society’s safety net. In addition to the funds the company donates to family shelters, emergency food programs and similar charities, the employees buy Christmas gifts for children in needy families they’ve identified in the community. The charities they donate to help them identify families in need. The employees are very passionate about this giving, and it’s clear when you talk with any of them that the whole program them feel good about the company for which they work.

During the 1990s, one of my clients was a savings bank that previously had no focus for their giving. I helped them develop a targeted giving program through which they focused their giving on programs that supported education and children. They ended up donating thousands of dollars to school libraries for use in buying computers and other equipment. The CEO was a former teacher so this cause was near and dear to his heart. I’m sure you can find something that excites you, too, and, when you do, responding to all those requests for donations will be significantly simpler.

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