More and more non-profits are looking for business owners to donate goods and services for events and initiatives. Should you use your business resources for the benefit of non-profits? Should you give away your products or your time? Should you just write a check? Because I am in the business of media production… and every non-profit wants a video… we get lots of requests. I often struggle with how much should we give away and how donating our valuable resources affect the business. We recently decided to help Blandford Nature Center, an organization in our community with a 50 year history. This organization serves 40,000-50,000 visitors annually and hosts field trips for students and countless family and community events. It also has a lot more work to do which is why they needed help. http://bit.ly/1CUC9su We have adopted this organization and will be producing a variety of productions over the next year. It has been a joy working with them because we were careful about entering into the relationship. I thought it would be good to pass along some of the things that business owners might want to consider before giving away the store! How much excess capacity do you have? It’s easy to get overloaded with work. Today so many things change at the last minute and if you are at maximum capacity for your time you cannot be flexible. If you promise to complete work for a non-profit and it puts you at risk for accomplishing work for paying customers you are sure to disappoint someone. Paying customers deserve what you have promised. However, I have found that non-profits will also be upset, even if they are not paying you, if you don’t make good on commitments. Be sure you have the capacity for giving time or materials before you make promises. Is the time right? If you have times when work spikes upwards you don’t want to use your valuable resources at that time. I generally tell non-profits that we need to do work during non-peak times of the year. Sometimes that works and they will wait for us. Other times they decline the offer. If you have products that are in demand and you donate them you risk being caught short. If you are giving away your time when paying customers are willing to pay a premium for faster service it is simply not good business. Is this the right time to make a donation? Think long and hard. In the case of the Nature Center we have lots of opportunities to capture video so we are working it into our schedule when we have downtime. Is the end product an accurate reflection of your company? If the non-profit is asking you to do something “on the cheap” you might want to consider passing. No matter what you do for a non-profit, in my case a video production, it is a statement about the quality of your work. If you create something that does not meet your standards for quality it can actually be detrimental to your brand. Are you passionate about the mission of the non-profit? I think this is critical. If you and your employees really love the mission of an organization it is a good fit and a chance to do work that “feeds your souls.” Perhaps you can do some really unusual work that you can use to showcase capabilities that you have not been able to convince paying customers to try. In the case of the Blandford Nature Center, we have had more fun shooting amazing video during all four seasons. Our employees have attended family events and experienced first-hand that this is a great cause. It’s a win-win. Over the years, we have donated video for countless projects. Some went well, like the Blandford Nature Center. Others, to be honest were a nightmare and got off track. The difference is the approach. Today we treat interactions with non-profits just as though they were paying customers. We set a scope of work, define the hours we will spend, the approval process and the timeline. When the expectations are clear, donating our services is a joy and we also make some great contacts with potential paying customers.
It’s that time of year. Requests are pouring in to my company to sponsor golf outings, make charitable donations, buy gala tickets and attend award luncheons. I don’t know about other business owners but it seems like I could be at an event every day. I also notice that I keep running into the same people at these events. It made me stop and think. If you own a business you are a target because everyone assumes that you have the means to help. These requests for support are generally from very worthy organizations but you simply can’t support all of them. The truth is that you need to go beyond your desire to “do good” and also access if this is really beneficial to your business. Here are some of the things that I think you should consider.
First, is this a cause that you really believe in? One that is near and dear to your heart? Is it an organization that you have some “history” with that goes beyond just a one-time event? Does the organization deliver the results it promises? And most of all, does the organization’s mission and vision align with your company’s goals and objectives?
Second, is the organization a good steward of the donations? How much of your contribution will go to directly help those that the organization serves? Some organizations put on great events but the amount of income they generate is laughable. Ask questions about the fundraising goal for the event and the likelihood that it will be met.
Third, if you sponsor an event how much visibility will it give your business? A mention in the program may or may not be worth it. If sponsors are highly visible on plasma screens throughout the event you are more likely to be seen. Will business be mentioned from the podium or be given the opportunity to introduce a speaker, participate in a panel? Will the non-profit promote your business as a sponsor on their website beyond the event? Even more important, are the attendees a good target audience for your business?
Finally, is this really a good use of your cash? It may be a better idea to personally buy tickets to an event rather than use company cash. You might also consider an in-kind donation of products or services.
Large companies are very good at handling charitable contributions. They pick areas of interest that complement their organization’s strategy- such as education, cancer research or youth programs. They look at all contributions through the lens of these areas of interest. They also have a very well-defined process and individuals that are charged with making decisions about giving.
For smaller businesses it is often a different story. Usually it is the owner that makes the decision and it is easy to get caught in a reactive mode when bombarded by great causes. I recommend that you have a strategy for charitable giving. You can even include employees in the decision making. Decide how much you will allocate to charitable giving for the year. Choose which organizations are a good fit for your business. Decide whether you will sponsor or buy tickets. Having a strategy will make it easier to say no when the request is not a good fit and help you better support the causes that make sense for your business. Ultimately, the best lens to look at Charitable Giving is how will this donation help drive my business beyond just doing good.