There are tons of reasons for a business to want to give back in some way. In the past, businesses have chosen charities for tax breaks, credibility, or to be recognized as a "good corporate citizen." While all these reasons are valid, and you may want to consider them when choosing a charity, the best option is a strategic choice. This can be an opportunity to do more than just give money or write checks: it can be an opportunity to get closer with your audience while making an impact on something that matters greatly to you.
Figure Out What Matters To Your Brand
Consider your mission and values. When selecting a cause to support, consider what you stand for as a company—or personally, as the founder. What is the mission of your organization? Who are your customers? Is there an issue or cause that speaks to one of those two components? If it feels authentic, it will resonate with your audience. Think about your company's founding story? Was it born out of a frustration or heartfelt need to make something better? Looking closely at why your company does what it does will help you see what causes your brand could work with strategically.
Close examination aligns your brand's giving efforts with your mission and values. If there isn't a connection between the cause you've chosen and what you stand for as a company—or what you stand for personally—it won't feel authentic when communicating about the partnership on social media or in other promotional channels. The public is very good at sniffing out insincere efforts, so authenticity is key. Your audience will see right through any attempt at "cause marketing" that doesn't come from genuine passion on behalf of its founders or leadership team.
Some examples of strategically aligned giving could be a woman-owned tech company giving to the nonprofit Girls Who Code. Being a successful woman in a male-dominated industry aligns perfectly with wanting to help close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what it is to be a woman in tech. Another example is a bottled water company helping to bring clean water to developing countries by supporting the building of wells. The connection does not always have to be as direct as these examples but it does need to be authentic.
As part of this process, also think about what issues are important to both you and your audience. Do they love animals? Are they concerned with environmental issues? Is education important? Which causes are the most innovative right now and receiving funding from other sources? To find a strategically aligned charity, spend most of your time selecting a cause. The organization you choose will be driven by the cause in which it believes, so if you're not passionate about that cause, it's unlikely to be a good fit for your business.
Are There Any Downsides?
Once you've identified an issue or a specific charity that aligns with your brand values and mission, decide if there is any potential risk associated with supporting this particular cause. Does the cause or organization have any bad press surrounding it or anything that might negatively affect your marketing efforts? This does not mean you should only give to nonprofits that lack controversy, but rather do some research into the charity before committing to make sure there aren’t any major pitfalls associated with giving time, resources, or money to them.
For example, supporting Planned Parenthood could be considered controversial by those who are pro-life. This could alienate customers who believe in pro-life values and may choose not to support a business that supports Planned Parenthood simply because they hold different beliefs on women’s reproductive rights than the company owner does, even though they might love everything else about the product.
In controversial cases, you must decide if you are willing to forgo possible profit for this cause. Lots of companies have taken a stand on an issue and come out stronger for it but you should certainly weigh the pros and cons beforehand.
Reach Out To The Charity
Different organizations have different needs. The best way to see how you can help is to talk with the charity about any specific needs they have or gaps that you can fill for them by becoming involved as a corporate supporter. Make sure the charity has room for more support from businesses like yours. Not all charities and nonprofits are created equal, so be sure that your chosen charity is a bona fide 501(c)(3) organization to qualify for deductions; consult your tax professional for specifics. Working with the charity to provide the help they need most, while still ensuring that your company can maximize any tax incentives is still important to the bottom line.
The only thing left to do once you have completed the three steps above is to bring your audience into your giving story through your social channels and marketing efforts. Show your customers how supporting you supports others. Show them that they can feel good about buying from you. When customers know that your giving efforts are authentic and driven from a place of generosity they find a connection with your brand.