I still twitch. Ten years later I still work to repress the urge. The muscle memory pulls at me to furtively glance around, decide which pocket or bag it would fit in, and pick it up. 

“Leah – I’m not a piece of garbage. Look at me! I’m at least 10 cents. Maybe 35!! – who knows really? Don’t leave me here. Think of the CHILDREN!!!” 

The crushed can or plastic bottle still waves frantically from its death bed off the curb. I can now, after proper therapy, straighten my back and walk away. 

For years, I heeded the siren call of approaching fundraisers. Sports teams. Camp trips. End-of-year graduations. Three kids, umpteen nephews, nieces, neighbors with flyers and doorbells ringing early on Saturday mornings.

Take my $20 – please. Let me write you a cheque. I don’t want to collect bags of recycling. I don’t need a magazine subscription and no more chocolate covered almonds! 

Supporting community fundraisers is beyond important. It connects. It creates possibilities. It is a way of giving back and creating great local word of mouth. Staff can proudly participate, supporting customers and people who will become customers. It’s a real way of framing the story of your business and how actually important local is to you. 

Hey – it sounds a lot like advertising and marketing.

Yes – it can be.

Also – it can nickel and dime your business to death without generating any of the positive vibrations we need to get out there to our clients, our staff, and our suppliers so you can grow your business.

That’s not good.

And no – I am not saying charity always needs to bring something back to you. Not at all. I admire and respect anonymous donors. 

But I also admire and respect local businesses who tell me they support local groups. I especially like it when they allow me to participate and feel part of something bigger. And I don’t mind if that participation comes with a chance to win something.

Think local lotteries. I get a tax receipt And a chance to daydream about winning a car, a house, or a trip – all while supporting local schools, hospitals, or building projects.

But those are the big ones. Those are easy.

How many calls do you get weekly asking for donations? Including the ones you have no connection to. Most businesses get 100’s of requests every year for teams, schools, clubs, draws…..

As a very involved parent, I still remember the businesses that gave my kid’s groups something to auction, use, and create. I have a special place in my heart for the local scrap metal dealer who paid top dollar for every old battery, appliance, and highway sign we dropped off. No government signs were harmed in the name of our travel club but every old appliance I ever have will always go there.

I also remember the businesses that did not participate – and more importantly, how they did not participate. Was there a brush-off? Were they irritated? Were they interested but had nothing to provide?

I have worked with many clients who created their own dynamic, make-a-difference community fundraiser. 

My advice is always to have “lifespan” in mind. You might think you want your “Xmas Morning Surprise” to keep growing in scope forever but build it with the idea of eventually partnering with an established local group and setting it free. Trust me.

Unless you are in the business of fundraising, you don’t want to create a project that becomes bigger than your business. Best-before-dates are there for a reason. 

You are the captain of your business and need to navigate how best to give. And navigation starts before you start the trip, or now. Whichever point you are at. 

  1. Have a charity budget.
    An annual amount of your money you are prepared to give away to help your local community. Do not go over that budget. Ever. Include gift cards, products, and services in your budget. Make it a dollar amount, not a percentage. Tracking dollars will be easy and will keep you honest.
  2. If I ask you, at any point, how many charity dollars you have left, and you don’t know, you are digging a dark hole.
  3. Know who you intend to give to.
    Is it sponsoring your kid’s hockey team? Is it the local food bank? If you don’t know who you want to support, you will feel obligated to support everyone. You can create your
    own main charity initiative or piggyback your support on existing ones as you are asked. 
  4. Have a process.
    An actual application process for people requesting a donation. Ask them what they want, when, and why they feel your business will be a good fit to support their fundraiser. Ask them to fill out your form for consideration by your Community Team who makes fundraising decisions for your business
  5. Your staff love to give. And get.
    Print up business card size “coupons” with
    expiry dates that are reasonable. You are not selling these, so they can have an expiry date. Every month, give each staff member a small stack, or one, depending on your cost. It comes out of your “giving” budget. They can give these to friends, clients, or even someone who walks in looking for a donation. “You can fill out our application or I can give you a couple of these for a free?” It can also be free vendor-supplied samples, depending on your business. And if they give one to their mom or best friend, that’s okay too.

Make people smile. Free ice cream anyone? I love this.

Your local business needs to have a heart. Creating local cheerleaders creates customers. The average person supports 4.5 charities a year. The average local business is asked to support hundreds. How you say yes, and even how you say no, is part of your story. 

Those chocolate-covered almonds can be part of a nutritious coffee room snack. But the truth is, you can only eat so many. I can help you create raving customers by quietly buying the box, but letting the kids at your door keep them. It’s an example of how to make customers feel like they’re winning.

They – and their parents – will be back.