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Opinion: Why business owners should consider charity

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It’s a new year, and a time when business owners reflect on the next steps for increased success. However, one question business owners don’t often ask is, “How can a charity help my business?”

It’s not a selfish question. In fact, it’s one that has created impact and changed the world over.

“Sole” mission
Blake Mycoskie focused on a charitable mission in the development of his shoe business and became an overnight sensation. With Toms shoes, he donates a pair of shoes to an impoverished child for every pair purchased. It’s now a global enterprise that has expanded into apparel, eyewear, handbags and coffee. By adopting philanthropy into his business plan, Mycoskie expanded his business “footprint” to touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of women, children and families across the world.

Involve clients
While Mycoskie’s formula won’t work for all businesses, there are many templates for success.

For example, retail corporations have raised millions asking their customer base to join them as donors.

At the register, you can support food banks, children’s charities and other organizations by donating a dollar or more.

The retailer is the conduit for giving, but the customer actually generates the cash, which is often matched by the retailer. The charity now has access to thousands of donors it would otherwise never have encountered. The company has created awareness and funds for their cause by partnering with their customers.

Other companies do a “portion-back” program: You buy a service, and a portion or percent is donated back. Others take ownership of charitable events as annual sponsors. 

No matter how your company creates its charitable mission, there are many things to be gained.

First, customers recognize the company as charitable. It’s a “feel good” that is proven to sway buyers when choosing between a charitable and a noncharitable company offering the same goods or services. A Cone Inc. and Duke University study found “85 percent claimed they would view a product or brand more positively when it supports a cause they care about.”

Second, it supports a social service, cultural, educational or health care provider making your community stronger and better for all.

Engage staff
The other, often less-obvious, benefit is employee engagement. Involve your employees in choosing the charity your business supports. Keep it local so they can see and feel the impact.

Align the charity with your organizational mission so that it makes sense to your customer base. And look for ways to have your employees volunteer with the charity. A few hours of service can embed a person in the joy of doing good. It will come back to them that you, their leader, was the one who opened the door.

Effective bandwagon
In our community, the numbers of businesses already embracing local charities is abundant and apparent, as you consider the quality of life in our region. There is a direct correlation to the arts, culture, education, health care and social service resources available to us all and the companies that support them.

If you want to learn more about the not-for-profits in our region, The Library Center, Association of Fundraising Professionals’ local chapter or GuideStar.org are great places to start. Remembering that many organizations can change a life with a few dollars is incentive enough to know businesses of any size can make a difference.

Lisa Alexander is president of the CoxHealth Foundation and a certified fundraising executive. With 23 years of nonprofit leadership experience, she has raised more than $55 million in her career. Alexander can be reached at lisa.alexander@coxhealth.com.

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