My associate Joel Beck has done a fantastic job in the last couple of years of aligning his business, Constance Cosmetics' Phoenix-area salons, with the Phoenix Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. By very actively supporting its annual telethon with fund-raising activities, personnel, and his assistance, he has been able to obtain a large amount of free, positive publicity on radio and television. And the contacts he has made in the media through this activity have proven of continuous and frequent value in promoting the business in others ways.
Most charities and nonprofit organizations welcome the interest of any business owner who might assist them in their fund-raising activities. You'll probably be surprised at how easy it is to get involved and how little it takes in fund-raising capability to be considered a VIP by the organization.
What can you do? With collection displays like coin cans in your place of business and special promotions, you can raise money for the charity from your customers. Take a lesson from national companies like 7-11 or Dairy Queen and the countless others that donate a penny, nickel, or dime for every so many items sold during a promotional period. With the charity's permission, you can use this in your advertising and as a lever to seek free advertising.
You can also raise funds for the charity through your own employees and their friends and relatives. Activities like Bowl-A-Thons, Walk-A-Thons, and 10K races give your employees an opportunity to get pledges of x cents per pin or per mile from their friends, then an opportunity to participate and have fun. Even a small group of ten employees who each get ten people to pledge 500 a pin for a Bowl-A-Thon can collectively raise hundreds of dollars, even a thousand dollars or more.
By running several customer/public promotions and several employee activities during the half-year prior to the charity's telethon or other, major fund-raising event, your business can come to the party with a donation of $5,000, $10,000, or more and be viewed as a major contributor—and all without actually taking bottom-line dollars to make a contribution.
A word to the wise: choose your charity carefully. A group formed to preserve historic buildings in your community might sound good until it gets into conflict with the city government's plans to plop a new industrial park on that same site, bringing 2,000 new jobs to town. A feed-the-homeless program may sound great until a few of the homeless people frequenting the soup kitchen make news by burglarizing nearby homes and parked cars.
Local chapters of recognized, reputable national organizations like the Arthritis, Leukemia or Easter Seals foundations are usually safe, and do provide a useful collection of benefits to their respective constituencies.
For your self-interest, you'll want to choose an organization that is highly visible in your community and very aggressive and progressive in its promotional activities. Frankly, there's no point in clutching the coattails of someone who's not going anywhere. An organization that has a locally televised telethon, auction, rodeo, or other major activity is ideal.
For the benefit of others, I encourage you to choose an organization with a policy of low overhead and high pass-through of funds in ways that genuinely help ill, handicapped, or disadvantaged people. There are unfortunately a number of nonprofits that use up most of their money on bureaucratic overhead, salaries, and fund-raising rather than doing anything with it that genuinely helps people. You should also try to find an activity or organization you honestly feel is making an important contribution to society, so you get some psychic reward from your support and can create employee morale and customer loyalty with sincere enthusiasm for the cause you all join in supporting.
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