One of the exciting things about being alive right now is how many businesses are realizing the importance of contributing to social causes. If you are starting a new biz venture or would like to weave some cause-driven initiatives into what you’re already doing, here are a few tips:
#1: Choose a social issue that aligns with your work.
Like anything else in business, be strategic. Find a great organization with a wonderful mission that your business can really get behind…and don’t just play it safe. What do I mean by safe? Example: You’re a women-centric business and you support the pink ribbon. Not to diss breast cancer, but look around next time you go to a grocery store or Bed Bath and Beyond. Pink everything! Companies of all kinds jumped on that bandwagon, leaving a lot of other great missions neglected. A more sensical approach is the restaurant that supports a cause ending hunger, a lasik eye center that gives money to research blindness, a hair salon that collects hair for wigs for cancer patients, etc.
#2: Form an alliance with a compatible non-profit.
Now that you have a similar cause identified that makes sense for your line of work, now look at specific organizations. First determine if you should go international, national or local. (and this is totally your preference, but I normally recommend you partner with an org with a similar reach as your business for the best fit) Research them online, and check out sites like Guide Star or Charity Navigator to read about their leadership and financials. Next reach out to their development team, and start asking specific questions about how they work with donors. Feel the vibe of the person you’re talking to, and see if there is good synergy.
#3: Treat non-profit partnerships like any other business agreement.
Once you identify a great org to partner with, design a solid working relationship. Define the terms, such as length of the partnership, how donations will be made, when payments can be expected (a schedule is a good idea) and the kinds of things that may result in terminating the partnership. This generates respect, consistency and a solid working relationship.
#4: Don’t be a jerk.
I have coached many Executive Directors of non-profits, and sometimes they remind me of working with victims of violence. Seriously, there is so much fear and paralysis surrounding the idea of them losing funding, it’s hard for them to lead. Think about it – these folks are responsible for people’s jobs, services provided to people who desperately need it and in general, just keeping the lights on. Not only that, they are accountable to staff, donors, the board, the community – and the list goes on. It’s mega pressure, and they don’t need funders who are controlling, manipulative or on their high horse. The best thing you can do for these ED’s is to honor your agreement, never make them ask and be the least maintenance donor you can be.
#5: If no good partnership is available, start your own non-profit.
I list this last, despite the fact it’s what most entrepreneurs think of first. Starting a non-profit is NO JOKE on the time, administrative functions, financial commitments and overall effort involved. Before you take this leap, get super educated and have lots of support. Check out free resources from the Foundation Center, which offers a ton of distance education options online, and it’s all free.