Can Volunteering be Part of Your Small Business Marketing Strategy?

April 11, 2016

What do companies as small as TOMS and as large as Goldman Sachs have in common? Besides  having highly recognizable corporate brands, these companies have all made strategic investments to get involved in their communities. But for these companies, giving back isn’t just about altruism, their community efforts are a vital extension of their marketing campaigns. Is community involvement part of yours? Having great people skills is one of the top characteristics of an entrepreneur because part of running a successful small business is developing strong relationships with your community. If your small business has a limited marketing budget – getting involved in the community through volunteer projects, in-kind donations, and small sponsorships can be a great way to get local name recognition at a steep discount. Do Well by Doing Good National Volunteer Week is April 10 – 16 and many organizations and individuals are celebrating by giving back to their communities. Corporate volunteer programs are on the rise, with over half of all companies now offering them. The great thing about a volunteer program is that you don’t have to be a huge corporation to take advantage. Any size business can promote volunteerism within their organization. Small businesses that volunteer can reap extra benefits by promoting their charitable work. If you and your employees (if you have them) choose a local charity or cause to support, it helps you to heighten your exposure in your local community. Not to mention the value of social media for business in getting the word out about what you are doing. Here are some easy ways you can be recognized or recognize your employees for their hard work. Strategic Volunteering There are many ways to give back to the community through your business. Here are just a few ideas: • Skill-based volunteering – Skill based volunteering happens anytime you use your specific skills to help support a philanthropic effort. For example, if you have a small photography business, you could help a local animal shelter take high quality pictures of their dogs and cats to help boost their adoption efforts. Or, perhaps you’re an IT consultant – you could help donate your time at a local boys and girls club teaching tech skills to at risk youth. • Engage Partners or Customers in Volunteer Service – one of the benefits of running a small business is having the opportunity to have a personal connection with your customers and partners. One way that you can creatively deepen your relationship with business partners or customers is to engage in a local volunteer project together. Ask the partner to choose an organization or cause that they’re passionate about and plan a 3-4 hour project. Even if they’re not able to make the project, they’ll appreciate your personalized approach to customer engagement. • Strategic Sales Promotion - If you can’t spare a day for everyone to volunteer together, try donating a portion of your proceeds from a single day to a local charity. You could tie this in to the ‘awareness day’(or month) for the cause you are supporting. • Sponsorships and Donations - If you don’t have employees, you may not have the time to get out into the community and volunteer. As an alternative, you can donate your product or service to a charitable organization that could benefit from it, or you can donate a prize or auction item to a fundraising event that supports that charity. Marketing Your Volunteer Efforts 1. Apply for a President’s Volunteer Service Award - The President's Volunteer Service Award program was established to honor volunteers that give hundreds of hours per year helping others through the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation. These volunteers can be individuals, families and organizations (like your small business) located throughout the United States. Applying is easy and you can win the award by meeting minimum volunteer service hour requirements. If you win, make sure you put this recognition on your website so that customers are aware of your volunteer efforts. 2. Apply for recognition through your local chamber of commerce – Chambers of commerce across the country are dedicated to supporting the local business community. In many cases your local chamber will also have awards for local businesses that are involved in the community. If you or your employees are giving back to the community, consider for applying to an award through your local chamber of commerce. 3. Create your own local volunteer award – Sometimes the old adage “if you build it, they will come’ is a best practice for business and volunteer efforts. Consider creating your own award that you can use the recognize a great local volunteer. Recently, tiny Scituate, Massachusetts, recently recognized as ‘the most Irish town in America,’ was in danger of losing its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. The previous sponsor was unable to continue their financial support for this long-time tradition that had always had residents of this seacoast berg shaking off the winter doldrums and coming out to celebrate both St. Patrick’s Day and the coming of spring. Local businesses sprang into action, raising money and doing the legwork to bring back the parade. The parade started and finished with a large float that featured the names and logos of all the local companies that had supported the parade. When the story of the parade that almost wasn’t made the local and regional news, all of those companies got even more exposure. Bottom Line There are so many ways small business can give back. Publicizing your contribution, both before and after the fact, will help bring the exposure you’re looking for. Write a press release about your activities, including photos if you have them, and send it off to local and regional media outlets. And because even the best of intentions can sometimes go awry, make sure you protect yourself, your business and your employees with business professional liability insurance. How are you giving back? Are you a small business that’s involved in your local community? If so, share a story about your volunteer efforts in the comments? You could inspire the next great philanthropic startup!