Creating a Philanthropic Culture in Your Small Business

By Judi Hughes

According to a recent study, 76% of business owners believe they have a moral obligation to give back to their communities. The report also found that businesses earning $500,000 or less donate (cash, in-kind and employee time) approximately $22,800 a year to charitable causes.  Incredibly, that averages almost 5 percent of their annual revenue.

Clearly, small businesses across the country want to and do make a big difference when it comes to supporting their communities.  This is good news for philanthropic causes, but it can prove challenging for charitable entrepreneurs.  While business owners have the freedom to support any cause they believe in, it is also important their good works are the right fit with their business ventures.

Whether you already support charitable causes, or you are interested in corporate philanthropy as your business grows, here are some things to consider.

What are your values?

You want to contribute and support causes that are in-line with your personal beliefs and the values of your business. Your clients and your team will make assumptions about your business based on the philanthropic causes you choose to be involved with.  A good corporate philanthropy strategy starts with understanding how the charity or community group you support relates to your business.

Create a culture of Philanthropy

Creating a culture of philanthropy starts from the top. As the business owner, creating this culture means finding formal and informal opportunities to set the tone with employees. What examples can you set for staff year-round? This might include creating staff volunteer opportunities, educating your team about local charities, or connecting philanthropy to everyday workplace activities – from what brand of coffee you serve at the office to how you promote your good works to the community.  Remember your philanthropic activities are also part of your overall brand.

Engage Staff

Philanthropy is good for employee morale and having staff onboard is critical to your program’s success. Ask your team what types of community involvement inspires them. Do they want to volunteer their time, or would they prefer a “dress down Friday” donation program? Remember to report back and congratulate staff on the results of their good work. People want to know they are making a difference.

 Be Creative

Don’t think that financial support is the only way to go. There are many ways that you can be a community builder without handing out a cheque. Consider giving employees time to volunteer, providing your products or services in-kind or offering your facility space to host meetings and events.  Be open to new and different ideas from your team.

Be Realistic

Carefully consider what time and/or money you and your team can dedicate. Does your team have time to participate year-round, or would an annual activity more realistic for your business? Remember time is money.  You want to feel good about your involvement, not resentful.

What does your involvement mean?

Philanthropic work can be personally and professionally rewarding, so it is important to consider the impact your good works will have on both the community and your business.  Customers often appreciate knowing what charities a company supports. Let them know through your website, social media communications, promotional materials and point of sale. You may gain customers and your charity may find new supporters.

When planned effectively, a sound corporate philanthropy program offers an abundance of benefits.  It’s good for the community, for business, for employee morale and for your soul.  It is truly an example of givers’ gain. Enjoy!

Actions to Take Now

  • Ask yourself where philanthropy fits into the vision and the values you have for your company.
  • Identify how this charitable work impacts your company. Is there a positive or negative impact?
  • Evaluate whether you have effectively promoted your charitable work to clients.
  • Consider whether your charitable work represents your brand.
  • As you move into your annual planning, consider which organizations your business might support and include time and money in your budgeting process.

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