Experts in small business philanthropy say it turns out that the old biblical adage is true: that those who give also receive
When the year ends, small business owners are besieged with pleas for cash, products or services from a plethora of worthy charities. Some respond by donating to disasters, local or national. Others offer in-kind product or services or forge partnerships with local not for profits, such as homeless shelters, disease research organizations or food pantries.
It’s Good for Business
But philanthropy consultants offered another incentive to owners to give until it hurts: it’s good for business.
Hanna Burmeister, a marketing specialist with the Michigan Small Business Development Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., said studies show that millennials in particular like supporting businesses that give back to their communities and have social missions.
“Small businesses are in a unique position to respond to community needs and express their commitment to causes they’re passionate about,” Burmeister said. “And that connects to consumers.”
She said many small businesses use social media to promote their causes.
“And when someone sees something good happen on social media, they share it,” she said. “It’s changed our awareness of what’s going on and offers a fast way to spread the news, allowing a wide audience to connect with different causes and charities.”
Burmeister said that technology has even changed the methods of donating to causes. “You can text a donation on your cell phone,” she noted.
Patti Eisenbraun, who owns the Brown Iron Brewhouse in Washington Township, Mich., with her husband, Tim, said giving back was part of the original business plan for their full service brewery, restaurant and smokehouse.
“We wanted to create a comfortable meeting place for families and hipsters alike, and to give back to the community,” she said.
Eisenbraun said the neighboring community of Romeo, Mich., has been a nationally recognized funding leader for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which supports childhood cancer research.
“We know the foundation doesn’t spend money on administration and the proceeds would go to where it is needed, so we support them,” she said.
The brew pub donates space for a variety of fundraisers. She said her husband, a U.S. Army veteran, inspired them to support the Michigan Wounded and Fallen Soldiers Fund, which goes directly to vets in need. Brown Iron donates $1 per item for sales of its glassware, T-shirts and other items, and donates 15% of sales to the organization on Veterans Day, while also serving military veteran customers for free. And on Mondays, not for profit organizations stage events there, reaping 15% of sales. “We’re booked on Mondays through March,” she said.
She said the biggest response has come from veterans. “People have said they came to patronize our place just to thank us for helping the vets,” Eisenbraun said.
Russell Hodge, III, managing partner of the Dublin, Ohio-based philanthropic consulting organization, The Hodge Group, said all philanthropy can be impactful. “What small businesses do is very meaningful in serving the greater need,” explained Hodge. “Once they know that whatever they do will make a difference, they can move on to how it benefits them.”
Good For Employees
He said a company’s charitable work benefits its work force and helps attract and retain employees, the type of people they want to work in their businesses.
“It makes it easier to attract talent, especially as our economy segues into a younger workforce. There is an expectation among younger generations that they should be socially engaged. And their customers want to patronize small businesses that keep their philanthropy local. This can create a linkage consistent with their branding,” Hodge said.
Lansie Sylvia, director of engagement for the creative agency, Here’s My Chance in Philadelphia, said a good way for many small businesses to dip their toes into philanthropic giving is by participating in national events like “Giving Tuesday.” The event—held the Tuesday after Thanksgiving—offers a great opportunity for small businesses to link up with charitable causes and not for profits and give back, by collecting food for church pantries, washing windows for not for profits or leads fundraising efforts for good causes.
“This can be a strong sell to a local business owner and one of the benefits can be to the bottom line,” Sylvia said. “I think it’s great when a small business owner receives positive publicity around charitable contributions because it provides a good example for other small business owners. It can exert a positive multiplier effect.”
Marty Tuzman, owner of Jenkintown Building Services, said his philanthropic journey began in earnest 23 years ago when his company turned 60. Tuzman said he wanted to do something special and give back to the community for its support of his company, which employs nearly 100.
“Our guys dressed in clothes they would have worn 60 years ago and we offered free window cleaning to not for profits and the chance to tell us their unique stories. We surveyed their responses and granted what we called scholarships, awarding them free cleaning for the services they provide to their community.”
Tuzman has continued the practice and said his workers are paid for the window cleaning at the going union rate.
“Our employees love that we do this. The recognition doesn’t hurt,” he conceded. “We’re known for these cool things, like having our guys dress up as Santa Claus or Hanukah Harry or even Spiderman when we wash the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital or the Ronald McDonald House. The kids love it, too.”
He said washing windows isn’t the company’s only charitable initiative. He serves on the boards of seven local not for profits dealing with homeless and immigration issues and arts festivals. Besides writing checks (an obligation for board members), Tuzman said his firm also donates gift certificates for window washing services to charity auctions.
“Our mission here is windows. It’s what we do and it’s part of our story,” he said. “We all have the capacity to give in our own unique voice.”
He part of his charitable mission is to rally other businesses to find their unique gift.
“There’s a place for it, everything from legal services to accounting, from locksmiths to restaurants,” Tuzman said. “We can all find a way to give.”
He said philanthropic giving makes business sense. “It’s a great way to build relationships. If it’s good for your clients and employees, then it’s good for your business. It’s a win-win-win situation. It helps you and others to understand your brand, who you are and who you serve and the role your company plays in your community. If your heart is in the right place and your employees are engaged, you don’t mind the extra publicity and good public image.”
Charlott Sitarski, owner of Elegance Wedding & Evening Wear in Highland, Ind., said four years ago she heard about Brides Across America, an Andover, Mass.-based not for profit that donates wedding gowns to military brides. Since then Sitarski has donated more than 100 bridal gowns that average in price between $1,000 and $1,200. Sitarski said Elegance just wanted to show support for America’s veterans and active military service personnel. But she said her shop has accrued unexpected benefits from the donations beyond the warm feelings from helping military brides. She said her salon has been featured on Chicago TV news programs and publicized in local newspapers. “We’ve had customers come in and tell us they wanted to do business with us because they appreciate what we’re doing. It’s brought in word of mouth customers and raised our profile. It’s actually been good for business.”