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Three Ways to Give Back to Your Community at Holiday Time Doing good is good for business and your brand. Here are three ideas for cause marketing that can work on a small scale.

By Gail Goodman Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Three Ways to Give Back to Your Community at Holiday TimeWith Thanksgiving around the corner, many businesses have their holiday marketing plans in motion. Holiday campaigns will start buzzing before the kids even finish off their Halloween candy.

Marketing around the holidays goes beyond sales and promotions. It's also about connecting with customers on things they can feel good about. Today's social consumers pay attention to companies that do good. They want to align themselves with brands that are doing good deeds, who share their values. Getting behind a local or national charity holds a host of benefits for a company. Here are just a few:

  • Shows you're more than a business owner, you're also a human being
  • Rallies customers and the public around shared passions
  • Makes valuable and lasting community connections
  • Builds trust and customer loyalty
  • Becomes part of your brand identity
  • Shows that you're a good corporate citizen

Cause-based marketing and community-based marketing can be done on a very small scale. Even in a tough economy, businesses can still find modest yet meaningful ways to connect to worthy causes.

Related: Does Your Business Give Out the Good Halloween Candy?

Here are three ways to get involved and give back, at holiday time and year-round.

1. Sponsor a community organization.
Communities and organizations across America are suffering from budget cuts. Embrace the community where you do business by finding and supporting a worthy cause. For example, if you live in a family-oriented community, you might sponsor an underfunded sports, arts, music, or afterschool program. Maybe your community has an animal shelter, soup kitchen, library, or other nonprofit organization that needs help. You can find an opportunity, and for very few dollars, contribute to a program that could use a boost.

Once you've chosen the charity you'd like to support, connect it to your business or your personal passion. Use your email and social-media marketing to share their story. Explain why you're getting involved, and encourage your customers to support the organization, too. Connecting to the challenges of your community shows that you're alert to what's going on around you beyond the daily grind of running your business.

2. Hold a fundraising event with other businesses.
You don't always have to go it alone. Band together with other related businesses vendors, and colleagues to raise funds for a local charity or cause. You'll all share the burden -- and the benefits, too. You'll give some great exposure to the organization you're helping, as well as your business and the others who lend a hand.

Related: Six Tips for Mobile Marketing to Engage Customers

Publicize the event through all of the co-sponsors' email newsletters, Facebook Pages, and via Twitter. Co-sponsoring a fundraiser, volunteer day, collections drive, or other charitable event is great way for people in your community to meet you and your business colleagues. And you'll be helping a cause that's close to your business address, and your heart.

3. Donate a portion of sales to a charity.
Donating a dollar amount or a portion of sales proceeds is another way to support a good cause. If possible, choose a charity that's strategically connected to your business. For example, a pet groomer could support a humane society or a restaurant could support a food pantry. Or maybe there's a charity connected to something that's touched your life or one of your employees. Ask customers to help you select a charity to support through a web-based poll, survey or Facebook's Question feature.

Need help identifying charities? Charity Navigator lists and ranks charities of all kinds. Check with your accountant before adopting a charity or holding a fundraiser to find out about Internal Revenue Service requirements regarding charitable contributions for business.

Once you've chosen your charity, decide on a dollar amount or the percentage of sales proceeds that you will donate to it. Post that on your website and on social media. Customers will know that by patronizing your business, they're also supporting a good cause. Use email and social-media marketing to spread the word about what you plan to do.

The holidays are a natural time to invite customers to join you in helping others. But you can support your chosen cause in a variety of ways all year long. It doesn't have to be with money: It can be through volunteering or using your business place as a drop-off point for Toys for Tots, a food drive, whatever the cause at hand may be. You set the example first. Then your customers will follow.

Related: Your Customers Are Talking. Are You Listening?

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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