Think that donating your time to a worthy cause will benefit you personally but not professionally? Think again.
Engaging in activities that support your community can produce tangible rewards for your small business, in terms of networking, brand-building, fostering customer loyalty, and recruiting quality employees.
Specifically, volunteer work can:
- Build and strengthen interpersonal relationships — Getting involved in a civic endeavor puts you in contact with people you might never meet otherwise. Some of these individuals will have knowledge and experience that may prove helpful to your business. They could even become valuable mentors or advisers.
- Create indirect marketing opportunities — The relationships you make as a volunteer can generate business simply through word of mouth. The people volunteering alongside you may need or know others who need your product or service. Once they get to know you and your offering, they can also recommend it to their friends, family members, and colleagues.
- Strengthen your brand — A business engaged in volunteer work often finds its brand enhanced because of the reputation it gains from doing something beyond making a profit. People tend to remember (and buy) brands associated with community good will. Promote your volunteer contributions through email newsletters, blog posts, and social media, and encourage readers to learn more about the charitable organizations involved.
- Expand your knowledge — Volunteer work offers insights into the needs of others while enabling you to grow as an individual. The increased empathy you develop for people in need broadens your understanding of what your customers want and need as well.
Finding the Right Fit
Some entrepreneurs seek out volunteer opportunities related to their personal interests. Others prefer to find ways to help that tie in with their businesses. If you sell pet supplies, for example, volunteering at the local animal shelter is a great way to expand your activities in a business-related area.
To do the latter, nonprofit organizations related to the product or service you offer, community groups sponsored by competitors within your industry, or groups with a long-range goal (such as building a greener community) that’s similar to yours. In these cases, the people you meet and work with will generally have more in common with you.
Also look into groups that offer the most flexible volunteer schedules. This offers you more leeway for finding time to help out that doesn’t cause undue stress at work.
Established community organizations welcome the volunteer services of local business owners. Your area’s chamber of commerce and Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions clubs will be happy to help steer you toward an appropriate opportunity.
Getting Employees on Board
These days, job applicants are increasingly looking to work for businesses with a reputation for community engagement.
In a Deloitte Volunteer Impact Survey [PDF], more than 60 percent of job-seekers born between the 1980s and the early 2000s, stated that a business-sponsored volunteer program would influence them “when choosing between two potential jobs with the same location, responsibilities, pay, and benefits.”
Of course, you shouldn’t mandate participation in volunteer activities among your employees (unless you’re willing to pay them for the time they spend doing charitable work). But when employees have the chance to use job-related skills in a volunteer setting, they often sharpen those skills in the process. They also tend to feel a greater connection to the community, which translates into increased empathy for your customers.
Consider implementing a “volunteer day” once a month or once a quarter to engage your employees in charity work that benefits both the community and your business.