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3 Ways to Maximize Your Company's Charitable Contributions A check is always nice, but thinking creatively about how to truly impact those in need is even better.

By Jess Ekstrom

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Alexandre Rotenberg | Shutterstock

Today, companies aren't using charity as just a marketing stunt. Giving back and running your company ethically is a long-term investment that results in a stronger company culture with your employees, more trusting relationships with your customers and best of all, global impact.

A great example of impact as a long-term investment is Coca-Cola's 5by20 program that aims to hire five million women in the developing world as local bottlers and distributors of Coca-Cola products by 2020. This movement will change the way they do business while empowering the women entrepreneurs in those countries.

But, an important thing to note is that impact should come naturally to a brand. If it's forced, it can be perceived as a marketing stunt to your customers -- or just cause confusion and dilute your brand. An example of a natural charitable integration is the "Omaha!" promotion, where seventeen companies in Omaha, Neb., donated $500 to the Peyback Foundation every time Peyton Manning yelled "Omaha" in the 2016 NFL playoffs.

Related: How Should I Donate Business Sales to Charity?

Another campaign that makes sense is Walgreen's "Get a Shot. Give a Shot." program, which partners with the United Nations to give individuals flu vaccinations.

Even if a quarterback isn't yelling your city name during the playoffs, or you can't partner with the UN, you can still find natural ways to giveback with your business. Here are three ways to make a difference through charity while staying true to your brand.

1. Educate people.

Recently, I was hired to speak at Fonville Morisey Realty for their awards banquet. However, they wanted to also sponsor me to give speeches at high schools or other communities that could benefit from my talk, but couldn't afford my rates. I was blown away by the creativity of that idea -- of trying to use my speaking as a way to give back to the community.

A lot of businesses have great expertise in certain areas or know important skills they could teach, and education is a meaningful and relevant way to give back to the community or to your followers. Can you offer free virtual classes? Visit an elementary school to talk about entrepreneurship? Host a workshop for people trying to get back into the workforce?

The best part about this path is that education isn't just helpful -- it also positions your company as seasoned and knowledgeable.

Related: Melinda Gates on Using Technology to Make Meaningful Connections

2. Donate items (or funding).

Donating products or money might seem like the most obvious route, but there are ways to get creative with it. At my company, for every headband sold, we donate a headband to a child with cancer. So, what we're selling is also what we're giving, which creates a unique experience with our customers.

Sevenly takes a unique approach by partnering with different charities every week, donating 7 percent of sales for 7 days. Not only are they able to impact a wide range of causes, they also receive cross-promotions from their charity partners, widening their reach.

If your company sells tangible items that people in need can benefit from, consider donating your extra inventory to charity; a way to move product while also giving back.

3. Make an unconventional hire.

You can also give back by whom you hire. Giving someone a chance to work is giving them a great opportunity they might not get elsewhere. Opportunity Threads is a cut-and-sew shop in North Carolina that hires Mayan immigrants and gives them the opportunity to also be a worker-owner after 12 months of work. So, by getting your product made by Opportunity Threads, you're also providing jobs to people in need.

Related: Mark Zuckerberg: I Would Only Hire Someone to Work For Me If I Would Work For Them

Carroll's Kitchen, a restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina, hires homeless women and teaches them life skills, job training and even houses them for a year.

This route is usually well-received, because giving someone an opportunity reaches far beyond dollar amounts. However, the sweet spot in business is all about making a living and making a difference at one time. It's up to you to decide how you want to get there.

Jess Ekstrom

CEO and Founder of HeadbandsOfHope.com, Speaker and Author.

Jessica Ekstrom founded Headbands of Hope when she was a senior in college in 2012. She created the company to bring joy back to kids who have lost their hair and help fund childhood cancer research. Headbands of Hope has given tens of thousands of dollars to childhood cancer research and has donated headbands to every children's hospital in the United States.

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