Globalization and the power of social media have changed how we do business in a single generation. Getting—and keeping—our customer’s attention can seem tougher than ever. So how can you and your business be seen and remembered among the digital noise? You become a trusted brand when you earn your customer’s respect.
The Values Institute has studied the most trusted brands to see what they are doing well to earn the trustworthy label. Across a variety of brands, they found that the five C’s are key—Competence, Consistency, Candor, Concern and Connection. Successful businesses demonstrate become pillars of a community by providing jobs, stimulating the economy, and lifting others up by supporting charitable organizations. They earn their community’s respect by being an active, generous part of it.
Even though the boundaries of community have expanded, there are more opportunities than ever before to connect and get involved. I’ve put together this list of six ways you can use your business to give back to your community—whether that’s in a small town, a booming metropolis, or the global marketplace. For each, I’ve included examples of how three amazing female leaders have used their own creativity to connect and give back in an authentic, personal way.
Practice philantrophy through professional organisations
Professional organizations exist for almost any vocation and group you can imagine. Find the best fit for your profession or interests. Many companies will cover the annual dues for their employees so check with Human Resources to see if that’s a benefit at your office.
Once you’re in, get involved. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Many groups have established charity programs and committees or support students or young professionals with mentoring programs. They will usually welcome your involvement.
For example, Nancy Leavitt of American Family Insurance has served as the Charity Committee Chair with Whatcom Women in Business (WWIB). That group awards more than $20,000 in academic scholarships to local high school students each year.
Award-winning floral designer, Natalie Ransom of Pozie by Natalie, mentors fellow business owners in the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce and WWIB. “There are so many incredible things we can learn from each other,” Ransom says. “My parents instilled in me that I can do almost anything. But I know that not everyone grew up with that or has that confidence, so it’s important to me to share that message. If you work hard, anything is possible.”
Donate your skills
There are probably a number of events, galas and fundraisers you’ve already attended or heard about because you care about an organization’s mission. Offering your skills to support their existing events saves them money and allows your work—and concern for community—to shine. Not only will you expand your network, they may also recognize you and your business during the event, on social media, and in program materials, meetings and more.
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Sarah Rorvig of Vivaluxx School of Makeup Art donates her makeup skills and those of her students to an annual fundraising runway show, Handbags for Housing. The event benefits Lydia Place, whose mission is to disrupt the cycle of homelessness and promote sustained independence. “I love giving back as much as I can as an artist. It feels good that our team helped them raise more than $90,000 at their most recent event,” Rorvig says. “And my students expanded their experience and built new professional connections too.”
Get on board
Once you’ve spent some time getting to know a charity or professional organization, you can make a bigger impact by joining their Board of Directors or Trustees. Positions may be elected or appointed and usually come with a one or two-year commitment. At regular board meetings, you can get in deeper behind the scenes and help make decisions that guide and improve the future of the organization. Most of the world’s nonprofits wouldn’t exist without the donated time and genius of their Board.
Leavitt has held board positions with a number of charities, including Boys and Girls Clubs of Whatcom County and Women Sharing Hope. Ransom has been on the Board of Blue Skies for Children and WWIB.
“Supporting local charity is near and dear to my heart. It’s just part of who I am so I am honored to have served these organizations and the local charities they support,” explains Leavitt.
Cultivate business partnerships
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” –Helen Keller
Partnering with other businesses means you can tackle bigger projects and reach a larger audience than you might alone by spreading out the workload and sharing your customer base. Choose businesses with appropriate, established customers that you are not yet accessing. But be sure to vet any new partners in advance to protect the competence and consistency of your brand. Then brainstorm events or promotions that are mutually beneficial, creative and fun for you and your customers.
Ransom rewards and connects with her devoted social media followers while introducing them to new local businesses with floral Treasure Hunts. “I put left over flowers and plants to use in an arrangement or terrarium then take it to a local business. We snap a photo and post it to Facebook and Instagram,” explains Ransom. “The first follower to guess the business and pick up the item gets to take it home for free. It’s a generous way to introduce people to my favourite businesses (and their owners) while also making someone so happy!”
Rorvig and Ransom have also partnered with local photographers to make their own passion project styled shoots come to life. Photos from these shoots have appeared in some of the most influential publications in their industry.
Don’t forget the match
Larger companies will often encourage their employee’s charitable giving by offering to match a donation up to a maximum dollar amount. Some paperwork may be required, but it will be well worth it to double or even triple your donation. Don’t be afraid to ask your Human Resources rep. Your inquiry may just spark a new company policy.
Leavitt discovered that the corporate offices of American Family Insurance would match the charitable donations she raised in her annual June and December ‘Quotes for Community’ campaigns where she donates $1 to a local charity for every insurance quote requested throughout the month.
Go slow – every little bit helps!
Life and work probably feel pretty full already so how are you supposed to add something new? The answer is by starting slow and being selective. In order to be candid and feel generous, we must be coming from a place of abundance. Sometimes that means taking a look at what you’re already doing to see if change is needed.
My favourite mantra is by Professional Coach Cheryl Richardson: “If it’s not an absolute YES, it’s a NO.” Take time to learn how to say no gracefully—with candor—then let the guilt go, and only give your YES to what’s really important.
Though leaders like Ransom, Rorvig and Leavitt only raised modest amounts or donated just a few hours of their time, their efforts have introduced and endeared them to their communities. That’s real connection. They have made a tangible, memorable difference to those they’ve touched and laid the foundation for others to follow in their path. By earning the respect of their communities, they’ve given back and made many new, life-long customers and friends. You can take that first step today, too!
Founder of the public relations company Wilde World Communications, Lorraine Wilde has published more than 200 articles, blog posts and essays since 1998. She writes about what inspires her. That includes the arts, music, film, science, motherhood and the amazing female business owners in her corner of the beautiful Pacific Northwest United States. Like other Leaders in Heels, she uses her business to support local charities and fellow business owners in her community and beyond.