This post was triggered by a talk we did to the Federation of Small Businesses in Telford this week. We prepared the usual talk about what we do, but as we sat in the room hearing from every attendee what their business was during introductions, we were struck by the fact that small business and small charities share a number of common goals which can complement each other. This post starts to explore that potential.
Both are created from passion
Most people start a small business to do something they enjoy, and most people volunteer for a small charity because of that same passion. And that’s something that’s not always quite so true in larger companies or where a charity has paid employees.
There’s a lot of leverage
Small charities are desperate to raise awareness, as are small businesses. And there’s a huge amount of skills-bartering that can be done by both to help mutual aid. The people who started a charity probably weren’t expecting to have to do auditable accounts, risk assessments, press releases, publicity drives and the never-ceasing fight for fundraising. And small business owners who are savvy can leverage the goodwill surrounding charities by donating their skills – perhaps not even for a significant portion of time – in return for publicity which is potentially WAY beyond what they’d be able to get from a large charity.
Be a big fish in a small pond
Small businesses helping small charities will be important to that charity, and the relationship valued at a level way beyond that of much larger charities. A donation of a few hours’ skilled work on something a charity needs (accounts, mentoring, photography, marketing… you name it) can make a fundamental difference for a small charity and make your small business a real partner for them.
A small business donating, or organising a sponsored event for a big charity may get a thank-you letter, a certificate, or possibly social-media recognition, but with them attracting donations in their tens-of-thousands, it is unlikely that a large charity will be able to offer any form of ongoing PR back to the small business.
Make a significant difference
Will your donation (be it skills or monetary) be a ripple in the ocean, or a big splash in a small pond? And will it have an effect on your local area? Most small businesses depend on their local area for customer bases, so to contribute back to that area is likely to be seen in great favour by potential customers… it may even help with local recognition if you leverage your own PR opportunities.
Don’t be afraid to ask for something in return
A small charity has limited resources, so payment is often out of the question. But, small charities usually have devoted members and followers, and can often be a presence in public that your company will never achieve. Any reasonable small charity will consider sponsorship packages on their website, their social media and perhaps even on equipment which will be seen by the public. And from the business’ point of view, it is never unreasonable to ask for photos, testimonials and credits.
But don’t ask for too much time
It’s a universal truth that most charity volunteers are very time-poor. Many will be fitting charity work around day jobs, families and ‘real-life’, so make sure that any proposition you make to a charity for leverage has as little demand on their time as possible. In fact, if you can do the PR work yourself and get them to sign it off, you retain control of the message that you want your potential customers to see. Just make sure it’s the right message for the charity too, because they will live and die by that message.
How to approach a charity
Be direct. And be patient. Don’t expect an immediate response, and don’t always expect your contact to get to the right person in the first place. Charity members come and go, roles change, and for anyone operating on a zero-budget for admin, IT, etc. it can be a struggle to stay on top of contacts. The best approach is to just ASK what the best approach is, so you’ll be put in touch with the best person to answer.
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Oh, and of course, it’s enormously rewarding
You started your business to do what you like doing. And the feeling of being able to do something you enjoy whilst making a real difference to others is enough to give anyone a warm glow and a good night’s sleep.