Companies that encourage community involvement distinguish themselves from their competitors, and see many benefits, including loyal customers and happier employees. According to a May 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research, 82 percent of U.S. consumers consider corporate social responsibility (CSR) when deciding which products or services to buy and where to shop.
"I've found that customers really want to know how you're making the world a better place," says Erin Giles, an Aiken, S.C.-based business philanthropy consultant who helps entrepreneurs find causes they're passionate about and incorporate their message into their business. Moms and Millennials are particularly interested in a business' corporate social responsibility platform, Giles says.
Here are four things to consider when incorporating community service into your business plan.
1. Build relationships within your community.
Look at your community to see what's important. Are the schools struggling? Does the animal shelter need donations? For example, Cody Pierce, vice president of marketing for Orange City, Iowa-based Pizza Ranch franchises, says the restaurants host "community impact" nights, where friends and family members bus tables to support a local cause, such as raising money for a class trip. Pizza Ranch donates the night's tips and 5 to 20 percent of the profits to the cause, while community members often provide additional donations.
The business benefits because it fills the restaurant on a typically slow night. He says building relationships starts by making genuine connections with your customers, then finding ways you can contribute.
2. Get your employees on board.
Giving employees an avenue to give back is important to morale and builds a collaborative and inspired team, Giles says. "When your employees love what they're doing, they do a better job," she says. Giles suggests that businesses offer employees an opportunity to volunteer during work hours or participate in get-togethers after work, which is more fulfilling than just meeting for drinks.
Volunteering also provides leadership opportunities for employees, which leads to increased staff performance and fulfillment and, ultimately, increased productivity and sales, Giles notes.
3. Create a custom volunteer plan.
Giles recommends that business owners evaluate their business and employee strengths and select volunteer activities that draw upon those strengths. For example, if you own an accounting firm, you could volunteer to help a nonprofit set up their accounting practices or do their taxes.
Likewise, if you own a restaurant, consider catering a school staff meeting to show your appreciation for your local teachers. Pierce says this may open the door to future catering opportunities, an incremental way to increase revenue. Decide how much time your employees can volunteer through the business on an annual basis, taking into account your operation demands.
4. Let customers know how you're giving back.
Once you've implemented your volunteer strategy, let current and prospective customers know what you're doing by including this information on your website. Giles suggests putting a dollar amount of how much your donated time or services would normally cost next to the number of hours your employees have spent giving back so it's easy for customers to understand how much your company gives to the community.
Related: Richard Branson on Why Volunteer Work Is Important for Business Leaders