By Alex Perdikis
As a small-business owner, you know that charitable giving is not only great for business, but it’s also the right thing to do. Charitable giving does have its pitfalls, however. Before beginning a charity drive or supporting a community cause, you have to plan your strategies and protect yourself. Here are five tips to help you plan and implement a successful charitable giving campaign.
- Choose the Right Cause
A haphazard, pick-any-charity decision leaves you vulnerable not only to failing in your charitable goals, but to being ripped off as well. How do you go about choosing the right cause? Start by thinking of causes that relate to your business. Do you sell auto parts? How about donating to the local high school shop class? Do you sell pet supplies? Perhaps you could donate to local animal rescues.
An alternative is to choose a charity personal to your organization. Is an employee’s parent suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease? How about a fund drive to raise money for the local Alzheimer’s support organization? Everyone is touched by cancer in some way. How about raising funds for cancer research? Make it personal by raising funds to help with an employee’s medical bills.
Ask your employees for input. You’ll get fresh ideas and engage staff at the same time. You can also get feedback about how employees prefer to give—by participating in fundraising efforts or donating their time.
If possible, choose a local group or cause to support. Working for the benefit of your local area adds a community touch. Avoid controversial causes—you don’t want to alienate customers.
- Check Out Your Charities
If you’re looking at supporting a charity, check out its validity before committing. Websites such as Charity Watch and Charity Navigator are charitable organization watchdogs. You can find detailed information about specific organizations, including what percentage of donations goes toward the cause as opposed to administration fees; complaints against organizations; and alerts about groups that are out-and-out scams. Also check with your local Better Business Bureau before partnering with an organization.
Don’t forget to speak with your tax adviser. Charitable organizations must meet specific guidelines for you to reap the tax benefits.
- Budget Before Moving Ahead
The goal is to give, but that doesn’t mean your fundraising or volunteer event won’t cost you anything. Make a budget to pay for whatever activity you decide to try, and stick to it. Don’t stage a huge event if you don’t have the money to pay for it. Your goal is to raise money for a noteworthy cause, not waste money on the event itself.
- Involve Your Customers
There are several simple ways to involve your customers that both engage and keep them informed about your charitable work. For example, donating a percentage of the sales of a specific product to a charitable organization gives customers the opportunity to actively participate.
If you and your employees donate time, ask your customers to come along. Engaging customers in this way allows employees and customers to create a link that goes beyond business.
Collecting donations is another way to connect with customers. Perhaps the local homeless shelter needs blankets or slightly used coats. Ask customers to donate items for the cause. Food bank donations, particularly around the holidays, are popular with customers and in many cases, supply much-needed edibles to local food pantries for months to come.
- Prepare for the “Gotchas”
You have the best intentions when you plan a charitable event, but prepare yourself ahead of time to handle the tricky situations that are sure to come up. For example, an employee may not be able or want to volunteer time. Of course, no one should be forced to volunteer, but those who do not should not be treated differently from those who do.
Even the most carefully chosen causes have critics. If an employee or customer complains about the organization you’re working for, be kind and merely thank them for their input.
You may find yourself inundated with requests for donations. If so, weed out those that are not related to your business. Carefully investigate the rest before giving money. Narrow your choices down to one or two. If you have a tendency to give a little money to a lot of charities, slow down. If you add all those little amounts up, you may find your giving is running the business dry. Your business finances have to come first.