Conventional wisdom says, “definitely, yes” because it will help build your business. But with any kind of conventional wisdom, it is important to stop and think about what community involvement means to you. Like any other activity your business engages in, some strategic thinking will help in the long run.
Just for a start, do you want to get involved? When running a small business, there are so many demands on our time, money, even on ourselves. It is easy to feel drained and overwhelmed. Getting involved as a business person is different than getting involved as an ordinary citizen. Your actions and opinions are under a different lens so there are times when you have to be conscious of your behavior.
So how do you want to get involved? With so many of us engaging in both social networking and in-person networking, our communities can be local, national, international, or virtual. Most of the entrepreneurs I coach have a sense of mission and want to create a values-based business. They often speak of what they will do someday when they are “big enough.” The thing is what if you keep changing the definition of what “big enough” looks like? Participation can be small as in a one-off donation or it can be that you take on a integral role in the organization.
You could get involved at the group level. At a recent chapter event for the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Big Sister Organization received a donation. Every year, the chapter president chooses a charity to benefit and the chapter raises money through raffle prizes at each event. Just by buying one raffle ticket, business owners were able to assist an organization that makes a difference in the community.
You could get involved at your individual level. Volunteer for an organization, become a board member, or even start an organization. For example, Danny Brown (@dannybrown) started 12 for 12k with the goal to raise $12,000 each month for 12 charities. Ellie Anbinder started Art beCAUSE to fund research dedicated to eradicating the environmental causes of breast cancer. Each year, her organization is able to “Seed the Scientist” with money that furthers our understanding of how substances in our environment can affect women’s (and men’s) breast health. While you do not have to start your own foundation, getting involved in something you believe in is crucial. What changes do you want to make in your community? As a volunteer board member of NAWBO Boston, I want women business owners to build successful, powerful businesses. You define your community. Do you want to reduce hunger? Unemployment? Improve literacy? Keep kids out of trouble?
So, now we come to What’s In It For My Business? Determining the kind of impact your community involvement you desire for your business is a key piece. Many of us have seen signs at Little League games for local retailers and business owners. For them, their name becomes easy to remember and you are more likely to go to that local pizza shop, that lawyer, or that hardware store. Others are looking to demonstrate how socially responsible they are so you make a value-based decision to buy their product or service. Another benefit to community involvement is accessibility to other business owners and customers/clients who are more likely to naturally do business with you.
I asked Danny Brown to explain what impact 12 for 12k has had on his business. He explained that, “It’s had a wonderful two-fold effect. It’s put me in touch with other business owners of the same mindset that wish to collaborate on projects; and it’s made companies aware that social equity can also equal profits. I’ve had seven new clients take me onboard to help them with both cause marketing and general community building work. So I think social equity is definitely a great business tool, as long as it’s genuine in its use.”
What are your motivations? This last question completes your strategic thinking about why you would engage in community involvement. If the value of service is an important one to you, donating your time, talent, or treasure in some form becomes just part of who you are. But as you cannot give to everyone and there are problems in the world that you want to stop, it is necessary to consider why you want to get involved as a business owner/entrepreneur versus a private person. Expectations, desire for power, desire for a legacy, or even your spiritual practice play into your decisions. In the end, know why you want to get involved and know how deeply you want to get involved.
Some other sites that focus entirely on this topic are:
There are some excellent discussions on philosophies of community involvement as well as information on what different roles are available.
So, what do you have to say about community involvement?
Do you know why it would be good/bad for your business What are your expectations?