Corporate Philanthropy for Small Businesses: How to Get Started Doing Good

Lots of big companies are known for their big wallets: McDonald’s uses some of its profits from burgers and fries to fund more than 270 Ronald McDonald House Charities, which provide free housing to families with children in the hospital. And last year, Wal-Mart pledged to donate a whopping $2 billion over a five-year period to hunger relief charities. But you don’t need to be a multinational corporation to make a difference — and boost your brand name — through corporate philanthropy. Here’s how small businesses can get involved in corporate giving.

Go local. Especially if you have a brick-and-mortar business, sponsoring events in your local community is the best way to raise your profile and make a positive impression with your community. You might consider sponsoring a local baseball team’s uniforms (and getting your business name prominently displayed on the team members’ backs), or donating items to a local fundraising auction or raffle. Check in with your local chamber of commerce to find out about available sponsorship opportunities. Charities are constantly looking for donations they can resell.

Give within your niche. Build goodwill and brand recognition by creating a philanthropy program focused around your specialty: for instance, Charlotte Street Computers in Asheville, North Carolina has created a program in which they refurbish their customers’ unwanted computers and other electronics and donate them to people and organizations in need. Similarly, Planet Dog, a Portland, Maine-based company that manufactures and sells eco-friendly dog products, has established a connected foundation that provides grants to programs that train, place, and support therapy dogs and other types of working dogs. You may not have the budget for a large-scale effort like this at this point, but focusing on philanthropic efforts within your field even in a small way is likely to lead to increased media interest — followed by plenty of impressed new customers.

Align your company with a complementary non-profit. Most non-profit groups don’t have much money, but they have plenty of goodwill and media-savvy, as well as a dedicated base of supporters. By finding a group in a similar sphere to your business and discussing their needs, as well as their ability to promote your brand, you could establish a long-term partnership that will be beneficial to both parties and help you grow your consumer base. Learn more about the specific steps involved in “cause marketing” from the SBA.

Join 1% for the Planet. If you want to show that your business has a true dedication to the environment, consider joining nearly 1,500 other companies in 1% for the Planet, and pledging to donate 1% of your sales to a network of environmental organizations around the world. You’ll be able to add the 1% FTP member logo to your website, which will give your green credentials a serious boost.

Hold a paid “volunteering day.” Look for local opportunities to get involved in specific non-profit projects, such as building a house for Habitat for Humanity, and ask your employees to join you for a (fully paid) day of volunteer work. Take plenty of photos of your employees volunteering — they’ll be great additions to your website and email newsletters. If you need help developing a workplace volunteer program, check in with your local United Way for suggestions.

About Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is a principal at the content marketing agency Eucalypt Media. She's written about business, marketing, and entrepreneurship for publications including BNET,,, and owns and operates the positive news site Gimundo. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynhawkins.
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Jana Taylor
Jana Taylor

Great post encouraging corporate philanthropy in small businesses.Another way to engage in going well by doing good is through a workplace giving program for employees. There is a strong link between workplace giving and employee engagement. Workplace giving (employee charitable giving, corporate matching and volunteering programs) are prevalent in large companies and increasingly of interest to mid-size and small companies. (This is a good thing, since, ultimately, companies of all sizes are competing for the same employees…)With new technology and approaches to employee giving and volunteering, small and mid sized companies can also give their employees a seat at the social responsibility table and roll out workplace giving programs that previously were only seen in larger companies…And they can build employee engagement by creating a culture of giving.