Small Businesses Giving Back: How to Do It Without Breaking the Bank

December 1, 2016


Social responsibility isn’t just for big corporations. Even small businesses – including solopreneurs – can play a role in giving back to causes they feel strongly about and to the communities they live in.

You may not (yet) be in a position to present an oversized check for $100,000 to your local hospital, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make an impact—and reap the rewards of being generous.

We’ll show you why social responsibility is good for business and some low-cost ways to make it a priority from the very beginning.

Why Giving Back is Good for Business

Philanthropy is often its own reward, but your business can also benefit from generosity.

1. Build Recognition and a Great Reputation in Your Community

According to a 2013 study by marketing firm Cone Communications and Echo Research, more than 90 per cent of shoppers worldwide are likely to switch to brands that support a good cause, given similar price and quality. Even more, they’re more likely to trust and be loyal to socially responsible businesses compared to companies that don’t show these traits.

Think about the businesses that are institutions in your community. The companies that enjoy fierce loyalty from their customers are probably the same ones that sponsor kids’ sports teams and chip in when schools and civic clubs come knocking during fundraising season. Not only do they get the pleasure of supporting their customers and community, they’re also publicly recognized for it. It’s a win-win.

2. Make Your Community a Better Place for Employees, Customers

Have you ever noticed that car dealerships are exceedingly generous about giving back to their communities? It’s true. I recently researched the phenomenon for an article and found that most dealerships set aside an annual budget to support fundraising initiatives in their communities. When I interviewed a handful of them, they each acknowledged the marketing advantages of their financial support, but they also uncovered another, more altruistic motivation: they want to improve their communities.

For many, their pet charities are local hospitals, libraries, colleges and other social services. They reason that a new and improved cancer wing at the local health care facility, for instance, will almost certainly benefit people in their personal circle of friends and family, as well as their employees’ and customers’. It’s a classic case of getting what you give.

3. Attract Great Talent—and Great Customers

The higher your profile in the community—particularly for great reasons like your social responsibility practices—the more likely you are to attract great talent. People are naturally attracted to well-reputed companies when they’re looking for work. If part of your brand is built on giving back, you may enjoy the same quality of applicants as your bigger competitors because of the cachet of working for a progressive company like yours.



Similarly, customers are increasingly choosier about who they buy their goods and services from. Many would rather pay a little more to patronize a small business with a great reputation for being generous and community-oriented than be served by a faceless corporation with headquarters out of town.

4. Make Good Networking Connections

Whether you’re volunteering time or money, you’ll know you’re in good company with other donors. Successful people with power and influence are often involved with charitable work. What a great opportunity to make connections with people who could potentially help you further your business.

To make the most of networking opportunities, look for charitable events like golf tournaments and galas, which will draw the wealthy and influential. Sitting on boards or committees are also great places to share a common goal with business people with whom you could develop a professional relationship.

5. Energize Your Social Media and Other Marketing

We know how important it is to post fresh content on our social media platforms, but sometimes it can be a real chore to source good photos, news and information. If you and your team support community charities and events, you’ll have fodder for great, regular posts.

Show your support to local causes by not only making volunteering or making donations, but also by posting updates on their events, fundraising goals and activities. And don’t forget to post vibrant pictures of you and your team getting involved. You’ll (correctly) be perceived as a business that’s regularly involved in what matters in your community.

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6. Be Happier and Healthier

There are psychological and physiological benefits to giving. One study on charitable giving revealed that the part of the brain responsible for cravings and pleasure rewards lit up when people donated to a worthy cause. How cool is that?

According to the Science of Giving: An Experimental Approach to the Study of Charity, there are a few ways to maximize the flush of pleasure that comes with altruism, including:

  • Giving to causes that produce tangible results (e.g. a Habitat for Humanity housing project) that are close to completion
  • Giving smaller amounts more often, i.e. supporting kids’ sports teams, school fundraisers and contributing to the fund to help a family made homeless by fire, will help you and your team feel like you’re making more of a difference than if you present one big cheque every year
  • Giving without getting anything in return, such as free advertising, a water bottle or a t-shirt

How to Be a Generous Business Without Breaking the Bank

There are lots of ways to run a socially responsible business without having to put your profitability at risk. Here are some great ones:

1. Make a Volunteer Plan

Just like with any facet of your business, if you don’t plan for it, it’s hard to make something happen. Every quarter, sit down with yourself or your team and discuss ways that your business can contribute to the world. From there, you can put a plan into action throughout the year.

2. Share Your Skills and Talent with a Cause You Believe In

Consider volunteering a specific number of hours every month to causes that could use your specialty. That might mean donating one free house cleaning service to an organization that can link you with a family with a sick loved one, designing a logo or website for a small charity or sharing your carpentry skills to help fix up the local community center. Take your skills where people would gratefully accept them.

3. Volunteer as a Team

Nothing says team building like pulling together for a cause. Instead of (or in addition to) offering free services, you and your small team could provide volunteer hours for organizations like Habitat for Humanity that require people-power to get their work done. Talk about team building!

4. Spearhead a Charity Drive

If you’re short on money and scheduled time, you can still give back by starting a clothing, book or food drive. Inspire clients and customers to donate gently used items or non-perishable food to your business and then deliver the goods to local food banks, homeless shelters or other charitable organizations. It’s one of the most effective low-cost ways to give back.


about the author

Freelance Contributor Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at heatherhudson.ca.