“I gave at the office:” 17 ways to give back that are good for you and your small business

Sponsoring a kids’ sports team is one of 17 methods we recommend for giving back to your community.

So you are working away day after day, and you’ve sold four percent more widgets, or perhaps four percent fewer widgets, than last year. Your rent is due, your assistant is going on maternity leave and your second biggest customer has demanded a cost reduction, which she insists you’ll “make up in volume.”

All in all, you would think you had enough to do.

But for many business owners, perhaps because of high energy levels or a feeling of owing something in return for the joys itemized in the previous paragraph, there comes a time when we become convinced that something is missing unless we are contributing.

By contributing, I don’t necessarily giving money to charity, although that might do the trick. No, it’s that feeling of helping out, making a difference, and maybe (for some) even creating a legacy.

Of course, most business owners are already “helping out” by virtue of being an active component of an economic engine, providing employment and benefits, and ideally, offering a needed or desired product or service.

But let’s say you are ready to take it a step further.

Really? Do I have time? Should I do it?

Do you have the time and resources, between managing the business, getting the rent paid and pushing the product out the door? And can this “giving back” also benefit your business? Yes and yes.

How will you make the time? We recommend starting slowly and gauging your activities to match the time you wish to share. It might be an hour a month, an hour a week or an hour a day. You decide.

Why is giving good for you as well as for the people or cause you are supporting? You may make contacts and friends, bolster your company’s good reputation, have something nice to talk about in social media or on your website, build your employees’ job satisfaction or self-esteem, and feel positive about the way you are spending some of your hard-won hours. For more on this, I recommend Adam Grant’s fine book, Give and Take.

What will I do?

You have a myriad of choices, giving you ample opportunity to try your “giving at the office” role on for size, and finding what works for you right now.

Here are 17 good ideas that work for small to mid-size businesses:

•     Offer job shadowing or paid internships to support the next generation as kids explore careers and gain experience; check into summer youth jobs programs and hire a teenager

•     Join a board of a non-profit, or offer an interested employee the chance to do the same as a representative of your company

•     Sponsor a youth team, a Boys and Girls Club or a sports tournament for a good cause

•     Contribute your time (or an interested staff member’s) to Habitat for Humanity or another worthwhile organization

•     Arrange to visit secondary schools, tech schools or colleges and offer a personal presentation on careers in your field

•     Mentor a new entrepreneur, sharing the value of what you’ve learned; you may learn from the entrepreneur, too

•     Take on a cause-marketing program that relates to your company’s work

•     Sponsor a youth or adult tutoring program, perhaps in math or reading; or volunteer through an existing program

•     As part of your social media strategy, pick a relevant cause or two and update your followers (don’t be too self-congratulatory, but let them know how and why your company is involved)

•     Instead of gifts at the holidays, donate to a local charity; at van Schouwen Associates, we have, since 2006, donated our holiday funds to a community food pantry in memory of co-founder (and my first husband) Steve van Schouwen, who cared deeply about issues of hunger and poverty

•     Target one or more of your products toward “doing good” – for example, by creating “green” alternatives that help the environment

•     Give a share of profits, for a week, to a local cause; promote this week of giving among your customers

•     Have the team take a workday for a river cleanup, community gardening workday or support at a food bank

•     Provide needed craft supplies for a senior center or nursing facility

•     Sponsor public radio or TV and get your company name broadcast as well

•     If you have more money than time, send a check to a worthwhile organization

•     And perhaps, talk to business groups about what giving back has given you

There are many more ways to support meaningful change locally, regionally and even globally. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.


Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC, a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. The company is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, as well as its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B.

Michelle and her team strive to be of value in the community, including with issues of education and workforce development, mentoring entrepreneurs and students, animal welfare, hunger prevention, and more. Contact Michelle at michelle@vsamarketing.com.

© 2014 Michelle van Schouwen

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