You’ve grown a successful business. But is it socially conscious? More and more companies are giving back to the community. And not only major corporations; small businesses are either creating charitable foundations or donating employee time and money to charities.
“Involvement in charities is an investment in the community it serves. Additionally, it allows companies to positively influence behavior, recruit and retain employees and influence potential investors,” says Robert Shumake, founder of private equity commercial real estate firm Inheritance Capital Group, LLC, who founded the The Robert S. Shumake Family Foundation to help young athletes and scholars.
The foundation annually hosts the The Robert S. Shumake Scholarship Relays, which features high school track athletes who compete for scholarships. A former track runner himself, Shumake thought it important to give back to a sport that gave him so much. “I have an undaunted passion to see young athletes utilize their talents and achieve both their athletic and academic goals. As an all-city track star in my high school years at Detroit’s Edwin Denby, I developed a passion for track and field,” he explains. “As a professional using the art of organized teamwork, I established the Robert S. Shumake Foundation and Scholarship Relays to highlight academic development and athletic ability.”
The Robert S. Shumake Scholarship Relays is a premier ‘Class A’ track and field competition for high school students across the nation. Its unique model is unprecedented in that it has a dual focus. The Shumake Scholarship Relay competition highlights both athletic ability and academic achievement. Prizes are awarded to the athlete on each team with the highest grade point average, teams with the highest score at the end of the meet and athletes who place 1st through 8th.
Alex Askew too feels it is important for companies, no matter how small, to get involved in charity. He co-founded a national non-profit foodservice, hospitality, and educational networking organization called the Black Culinarian Alliance (BCA), whose goal is to bring culinary awareness to people of color in the hospitality industry.” Generous corporate support and sponsorships are the reason nonprofits are able to maintain and develop programs focused on real-life social issues. These resources allow charities to assist in the development of programs,” he notes. Like Shumake, Askew, a professional chef, decided to dedicate his time and energy to giving back to a field he knew, the culinary arts. “Currently, there is a lack of education, awareness and exposure that exists for culinary and hospitality professionals of color. By providing direction, networking opportunities and programs early in the career choices of students at the high school level, to and through college, we can help create the path toward the professions of their choice,” says Askew. “The BCA is a national non-profit, culinary/foodservice and hospitality career advancement organization. Our objective is to advance diversity by creating exposure, professional and educational opportunities for culinary and hospitality professionals of color. We focus on motivating students of color by introducing them to the high standards and disciplines set by our industry, while exposing them to the variety of career paths available both through and beyond the culinary arts.”
Even if your company is unable to start its own charitable arm, you can get the firm moving in the way of giving–either in terms of money, time, or skills. “I do not have a charity per se, but, through my consulting company, I encourage charitable giving and volunteerism to anyone who will listen. Truth be told, I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years in total, both officially and unofficially. Since giving back is a way of life, it has always been a part of my business model,” says Chris Cathcart, president and founder of OneDiaspora Group and author of The Lost Art of Giving Back. “The answer for “why” is simple: first and foremost because it’s right and we have a responsibility to repay those who helped us along the way. We should try to make sure we leave the world a little better than we got it. Also, it’s a great branding element of any business.” Cathcart’s OneDiaspora Group is the Los Angeles CA-based parent organization for OneDiaspora Consulting and The OneDiaspora Project. OneDiaspora Consulting is a full service, media/public relations agency, and The OneDiaspora Project is a non-profit community assistance and awareness organization.
Taking the path to charitable giving only adds to your corporate image, says Cathcart. “It’s a great way for a business to distinguish itself from its competition while also building stronger, longer lasting bonds with its customers. People tend to want to do business with companies that exhibit a real interest in their wellbeing and needs beyond merely providing quality goods and services. By investing – be it monetarily or via some community service – in the lives of their customers, businesses are able to brand themselves as caring partners in consumers’ lives, and vice versa. This develops and enhances brand loyalty,” he notes.
If you want your company to adopt or start a charity, do some research. “One should know their local community, its resources and areas of need. One must be prepared to form a team, and have a mission or goal in mind. To simply get involved, research! The Internet is at your fingertips, and many charities have pages on how to get involved on their websites,” explains Shumake. Adds Askew, “Sponsorship, support or collaboration is key. The target focus is to facilitate through an understanding of “value partnerships”. This process helps organizations to recognize the connection between corporate giving and the charity.” It is important, however, to find the right charity for your company profile, Cathcart points out. “Take a hard, honest look at your audience, or in this case customers. Be clear about what’s important to them and their needs in life, and not just relative to whatever product or service you provide. Identify ways that can you help make their lives better or more empowered, then begin there. And it’s fine to look for ways to tie in your core business,” he explains. “For instance, banks provide free financial management seminars, sporting goods stores donate athletic gear to youth leagues, new technology outlets offer internships for science students, etc. Just be sure that you are meeting a need (theirs, not yours) first and foremost.”
Shumake agrees that it is vital to find a good fit. “Figure out what is close to the hearts of those at the corporation. It’s much easier to get involved with something you’re already passionate about,” he says.
Cathcart concludes, “If you are a small company, find a charity that is local and connected to your audience, or start one that impacts the local community. If you are a national outlet, either find a national charity that has local chapters or select a few groups that do the same type of work or service but in different communities or regions. The key is to try to connect with folk on a local level when and where possible. The most important step is a willingness to do it all. There will be hiccups and bumps in the road, for sure, but the upsides to giving back to your community while developing a distinct brand loyalty in the minds of your customers far outweigh any of the challenges involved. Giving back is good business. Period.”