Make a commitment to your community

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Make a commitment to your community

By Robert Grede, for SBT

Get active in your community. Whether you’re a small business owner or an employee of a big organization, there are many benefits to community involvement:
–You enhance your image in the community.
–You achieve greater visibility for yourself and your company.
–You enlarge your network of business contacts.
–You can have a significant impact on your company’s sales.

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There are many ways to get involved in the community. Most charitable and nonprofit organizations have a crying need for volunteers.
Start with local affiliates of the national health-related education and research organizations (American Heart Association, United Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, etc.).
Or try contacting local nonprofit hospitals, educational facilities, your Chamber of Commerce, Scouting, the YMCA, Rotary, AIDS Resource Center, Ronald McDonald House, etc. The list is long and can only be culled by your interests and those of your company.
Once you have chosen the organization that best fits your company profile, following are ways you can work with the organization (and make the group work for you, too).

Donate a percentage of the profits – This could be a one-day-a-year event or a whole month. For your company, promote it as "We Care Day" or "(name of the charity) Month."
Ask the charity do a mailing to its list of contributors and friends, inviting them to do business with you. Include a coupon or certificate for a discount in the mailing. It’s an excellent way to raise money for the charity and alert a new set of prospects to your business.
If the charity has access to any celebrities, ask if they can arrange an appearance at your next function as a part of the fund-raising program. You might want to set up an autograph table or have a photographer take instant pictures in exchange for a donation.

Key customer contribution – Once a year, send a handwritten note to several of your key customers thanking them for their support. In the note, tell them that, in appreciation, you are making a cash contribution in their name to a charitable organization.
Or you can ask the customer to pick the organization (from among four or five on your list) to which the contribution should be sent.
You receive the appreciation of your customers, and the charity receives your support.

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Sponsor a scholarship – Scholarships at the high school or college level make good sense.
Forrer Business Interiors, for example, provides a $1,000 scholarship each year to a deserving student in the design department at Mount Mary College. In addition, the student is offered a summer internship at Forrer. The school chooses the recipient from among several worthy candidates.
The scholarship program provides the student with much needed funds while Forrer gets recognition at a prestigious school of design and a topnotch employee for the summer.
Another client of mine, a dry-cleaning service, provides scholarships to worthy high school students in its community. The visibility and good-guy image helps when it comes time to recruit employees.

The cook-off – Cook-offs are fun and an easy way to raise money for a charity. For example, a restaurant in a small town held a pancake breakfast for charity. A local pastor did the cooking, and his parishioners attended breakfast after church service. All the proceeds during the hour that he cooked went to the church.
While such a promotion is best suited to a restaurant, any sponsor can get good exposure in the community.
For instance, hold a barbecue competition in your parking lot. Invite local newspaper food writers and a few restaurant chefs as judges. After judges have announced a winner, spectators can sample the food. Competitor entry fees and spectators’ fees (which include lunch) go to the charity. You, as sponsor, pay only for prizes and promotional expenses.
Be sure all contestants have hats and aprons with your logo prominently displayed. Provide the winning recipes to local food writers. And invite the media to the event. This is a natural for television.
Whether you’re a business owner or an employee, community involvement enhances your image, creates name recognition and enlarges your network of contacts.
Besides, it’s a great way to meet some nice people.

Robert Grede, president of The Grede Co., consultants in marketing and strategic planning, teaches at Marquette University; He can be reached via e-mail at

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May 2, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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