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Start Your Business Startup Basics

Giving Back: 4 Ways Your Company Can Do Good

Giving Back: 4 Ways Your Company Can Do Good
Credit: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Today's consumers, particularly millennials, are looking for more than just a product from the brands they support. They also want social responsibility and corporate accountability. For many companies, this is changing how they market their products to younger generations. But don't stop at marketing. Here are four ways your company can do good while growing and reaching new customers.

If you visit the Virginia Discovery Museum, you'll find an interactive exhibit where kids can learn about their community. It features stations like a theater, post office, hospital and firehouse. There's also a Panera station, because Panera sponsored the exhibit. Its donation allowed the museum to expand, benefited the community and exposed every family who visits to the Panera brand.

Your business might not have the cash flow to support an entire museum expansion, but you can still take advantage of smaller sponsorship opportunities in your area. From sports teams to theater clubs to youth choirs, local groups are often looking for businesses to pay for some of their costs in exchange for branded uniforms or program ads. You'll get a little extra exposure, and local programs will get the support they need.

Money isn't the only thing your community needs. Your business can also give back with time, energy and involvement.

Anton's Cleaners, a Massachusetts dry cleaning chain, uses its services to take the lead on two major community programs. In the fall and winter, it supports Coats for Kids, a charity that collects and distributes winter coats to families who lack them. In addition to publicizing the drive and serving as a collection point, Anton's dry-cleans all the coats for free after they are donated. In the spring and summer, it helps run the Belle of the Ball drive, collecting and cleaning prom dresses that are then donated to low-income high schoolers.

You can get your business involved in the community by looking for pre-existing charity drives that need your services or could use your facilities. You could also take the initiative to launch your own community events.

That's exactly what Capannari Ice Cream in Mount Prospect, Illinois, does, hosting family-friendly events like movie nights and concerts. These occasions enrich the local community, support families and make Capannari's an integral part of living in Mount Prospect.

How you get involved will depend on the type of business you run. An accounting firm, for example, could offer a tax workshop for senior citizens or college students, while a winery could host a summer carnival with free admission. Think about what will benefit your community the most, then examine your services and resources to figure out where you can step in and help.

It's not just customers who care about how your business gives back. The 2014 Millennial Impact Report, which looked at the influence of the millennial generation on the workplace,  found that an employer's "cause work" was a factor in job searches for 34 percent of millennials.

A further 55 percent of young workers were persuaded to take a job once they learned about a company's charitable activity. The report also found that the majority of millennials wanted to contribute to a company that made a positive impact in the world.

Collecting for a cause is an obvious way to involve employees in charitable work, but the report also found that millennials preferred actively participating in companywide volunteer programs to passively donating. That means making volunteer work part of your company culture could be even more meaningful.

Close the office one day a month and have everyone show up to build for Habitat for Humanity. Encourage your workers to create teams and raise money for a charity walkathon. Have employees sign up to mentor high school students, and encourage them to bring their mentees into the office. There are lots of options for getting your employees involved in a cause, and all of them will help your business give back while also attracting new, driven talent.

If you want your business to make even more of an impact, incorporate giving back directly into your business model by donating a portion of your sales to a cause you care about.

Toms, a brand best known for selling shoes, sets aside money from every sale to donate to its One for One charitable efforts. Consumers who buy Toms products know that a portion of the money they pay will go toward supporting organizations that provide underserved communities with services ranging from eye surgery to fresh water – and, of course, shoes.

Toms is a large corporation, but a smaller business can follow a similar model. Compliment, a small-batch jewelry business founded in 2011 in Northern California, sets aside 5 percent of every sale to fund the Compliment Scholarship Program, which is awarded to low-income young women entering college. The scholarship, and the fact that every sale supports it, is featured prominently on Compliment's homepage. Every visitor knows their purchase is used to give back to the community, and the program has been referenced in the majority of press the business has received.

Five percent might not seem like much. But as anyone involved in charitable work knows, every little bit adds up to make a difference. If you're interested in finding ways to give back within your business model, allow yourself to start small or think local. You'll end up making a difference for your customers, your employees, your community and possibly even your sales.

Katharine Paljug

Katharine Paljug is a freelance content creator and editor who writes for and about small businesses. In addition to Business News Daily, her articles can be found on Your Care Everywhere, She Knows, and YFS Magazine. Visit her website to access her free library of resources for small business owners, or follow her on Twitter as @kpaljug.