“I think getting involved with nonprofits is like working out. It’s always hard to go that first time, but once you get started and begin to feel the benefits of regular participation, you can’t imagine how you lived without it. I hear very often: ‘I’m too busy to volunteer,’ ‘I don’t have the time,’ ‘I wish I had the time to do it.’ Really, these are just excuses. If it’s important to you, you’ll make the time to do it. And once you make the time and see the rewards, it will become a part of your life.”
—Mark Berzins, Owner, Little Pub Company, Denver, CO
Start Before Your Launch
The best time to begin thinking about how to engage with your community is when you initially design your business. You do not need to be an established, profitable company to either start or increase your involvement with nonprofits and other community organizations. Starting your business giving activities early allows you to build community investment into your organizational values, culture, and operations so you don’t have to “turn the Titanic” later.
Take entrepreneur Judith O’Neill, who founded her business, Landscapes Within, after burning out as a hospice worker and experiencing the death of her father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Her desire to take beautiful, artistic photographs quickly grew into a vision of creating a national greeting card company. Judith and her employees did well by doing good from the start, donating generously to organizations that support Alzheimer’s research. From the beginning the artist knew, “I would not be satisfied with just having my financial needs met. Giving back is actually going to be more fun for me—not just a ‘should.’ I am excited about being able to see the business supporting something I have a deep passion for.”
Late is Better than Never
However, if setting up a community investment program was not on your radar during start-up due to the crunch of getting your business up and running, don’t despair. It is never too late. Take a baby step now, get some experience, figure out what works for your company, and keep moving forward. If you have been doing unfocused checkbook giving until now—bravo for caring and doing something—think about what comes next. How can you do something that invests your company at a deeper level and makes a bigger impact?
You’re Never Too Small…
No matter the size, age, or profitability of your company, you can make a positive difference in your community. Always remember, the efforts of one person or a small group do matter—even more so if you choose to work with an up-and-coming nonprofit. Newer organizations really need partners as they do not already have a plethora of existing business supporters. When working with a huge nonprofit like the American Red Cross or the American Cancer Society, it is easy to feel like one small drop in the ocean as your relative contribution is small and harder to see directly.
Collaborate and Pool Resources to Achieve More
Another option is to pool your company’s resources with others to jointly work on community projects either informally or through organizations designed to promote such efforts, like Social Venture Partners (SVP). Social Venture Partners International is a nonprofit network of engaged philanthropists, with over 25 local SVP organizations and 200-plus partners internationally. Collectively, since 1997, SVPs have contributed $80+ million in grants to more than 900 nonprofit organizations in 8 countries and countless hours of strategic volunteering.
Remember Margaret Meade’s words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
So go for it!