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
“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
“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,”
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
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.”