Consider these two scenarios:
Retailer 1 is heavily involved in the community. Every time someone from the community walks into her store and and asks for assistance with a project or non-profit venture, she jumps on board. Over the last year, she has helped numerous causes with small donations. After looking back at her efforts, she discovers that she has donated product or money to over 50 different causes or individual.The money was spread thin, but she felt good about being a part of the community.
Retailer 2 is also involved; however, she took a different approach to here community efforts. From the very beginning of her business, she sat down with her team and a variety of her shoppers and asked them what they cared about. She also did a lot of soul searching. After looking at her and her stakeholders concerns, she and her team decided to focus on two specific community organizations – the local elementary school and a national youth fitness organization that is dedicated to stamping out childhood obesity.
Who wins out of these two scenarios? Which is the better strategy for a small business?
I’ve seen both approaches used and both can work; however, my personal take on the issue is that retailer 2 has the best approach. Here’s why:
- She is focused – By focusing on one or two causes, she can devote more resources to them. More importantly, she can use these as great story telling opportunities inside here store and on her website. She is building a strong legacy.
- She is listening to her team, customers and community – She is in alignment with what her stake holders want and by being strategic, she has a better opportunity to gain their support and enthusiasm behind any efforts that are made.
- She can tell one or two powerful stories – No matter how much our customers care, they tend to block out the endless stream of advertising and marketing that is thrown their way. Retailer 2 has a much better chance of being heard by consistently telling one or two great stories.
- She might make a real difference – This is a tough position to be in. As a community-driven retailer, she might want to help out everyone she can; however, by spreading herself and her resources thin, she isn’t able to make a large impact. She’s much better off in the long run if she tries to help out in a few places and makes a bigger impact.
Let’s say you decide to follow the example of retailer 2, how can you deflect the many requests you get? First, be honest with people. Talk about your decision and why you are trying to be more strategic with your community involvement. Second, give them a way to make their request that helps you filter out less important requests. One way to do this is to set up a “charitable donations” request form on your site and direct everyone who asks you for help to the page.
The request form should include some key questions:
- What help do you need?
- How much money are you requesting?
- If we cannot donate money, are their other ways we can help?
- How are you telling your story to the public?
- How will you help tell our story as a part of your efforts?
Don’t be shy about asking this last question. When non profits or individuals come to you with requests, they should be making an effort to help you get some credit for your contribution. If they don’t have plans, ask them to rethink their approach and come back to you later with a better plan.
If you create a form like this, make sure you reply to anyone who makes a request. I know this might take a lot of time; however, you need to do it. Reply with a handwritten note or email them back. Be honest about your strategic community efforts and explain why or why not there request was accepted. Thank them for their commitment.
If you are interested in learning more about how to improve your community involvement efforts, here are a few links:
- Strategy for Sustainability, by Adam Werbach (amazon affiliate link)
- How Community Involvement Can Help Your Business (blog post)
- Community Involvement and Business Growth (blog post)
How are you and your company reaching out to your local community? Do you have a focus or strategy for community involvement? What types of organizations are you involved with? How did you select which organizations to work with? Are there ways you are getting involved in the community without directly donating money?