How Growing Businesses Can Prioritize Community Involvement

Wanting to find ways to give back this year but not sure where to start? Here are six first steps.

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By Rashan Dixon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Employee volunteer time and community-engagement initiatives can sometimes feel like luxuries a growing business can't afford. But the truth is that prioritizing community involvement can often be a means of helping your business grow.

Consumers now care about the ethics of the businesses they buy from almost as much as they do the business's products. In fact, 86% of U.S. consumers say corporate social responsibility factors into which companies they support financially. As a small business, community engagement is critical because your target customers will see your care in action.

But your target customers aren't the only ones who care about your actions. Social responsibility and volunteer opportunities also matter to employees. This is especially true for younger employees who want to find meaning in their work.

So how exactly does a growing business with minimal resources get involved in the community? Here are six first steps you can take:

Related: 6 Reasons Why a CSR Strategy Is Imperative For Your Startup

1. Empower your employees

Instead of using your limited time to research volunteer opportunities, encourage motivated employees to form a community engagement committee. They then can decide which organizations to support and projects to head up. This will also bring a broader range of backgrounds and interests to the table, opening doors to community involvement opportunities you may have not considered yourself.

Employee-led efforts are also more likely to get the whole company enthusiastic about the initiative.

2. Make appearances at local events

Find local festivals, fundraisers and parades to support financially or through volunteers to show your care for the community. Doing your part to make these events happen is a valuable way to connect with your potential customers and get your name out there. Jim Adkins, founder and CEO of Strategic Financial Associates, explains, "Participation in the community you live in will generate an opportunity to meet new people and build meaningful relationships. It's the ultimate networking event."

While you can start with sponsorships, try to go even further by finding ways for employees to volunteer at the event. You can also think about ways your business can provide unique services that would support the event. If you sell consumer goods or food, you could make donations. If your company provides medical services, consider attending a local health fair or senior event. Stay open-minded and get creative.

3. Align volunteer efforts with what your business does

All volunteer efforts are commendable, but if you offer your company's specialty on a volunteer or donation basis, it'll be especially memorable for potential customers. For example, a building materials manufacturer could participate in a Habitat for Humanity build. A marketing company could run a social media workshop for community-based nonprofits. A foodservice company could partner with a local food pantry.

Related: How to Find and Offer Volunteer Opportunities to Your Employees

4. Make it easy for employees to participate

Volunteer efforts that require extra time or an excessive commitment likely won't get much participation. Even if your employees are especially altruistic, asking them to give up non-work time can be a tough sell.

Instead, offer paid time off for volunteering or designate specific company-wide volunteer days. You could also hold friendly competitions that incentivize volunteering with prizes like gift cards for the people who volunteer the most. Make sure the leadership team participates in volunteerism as well and that managers know to encourage their employees to take the time off.

5. Be active online

These days, communities congregate online. Many municipalities have local social media accounts to share news and promote local events. Following these accounts shows engagement in your community and keeps you aware of upcoming opportunities.

More importantly, online engagement helps spread the word that your company is enthusiastic about community involvement. Use your company social media accounts to publicize what you're doing in the community, complete with pictures and personal stories. People love seeing feel-good stories on their feeds, and potential customers will see that you give back.

Related: Why Should Your Business Care About Social Responsibility?

6. Make community involvement sustainable

One-time volunteer efforts are fine, but repeatable ones are much better. Partnering with organizations that consistently need volunteers and supporting annual events make long-term volunteerism easier.

Sustainable involvement is ideal because it means you have a chance to reach a larger part of the community, engage more of your employees and cement your company's reputation as one that gives back. Constantly researching new, one-time opportunities drains resources, but intentionally choosing opportunities that allow for continued engagement means your company can do more with less effort.

Whether your company wants to donate time, talent or dollars — or all three — giving back to the community is an important way to make your company a positive force in your customers' lives. There are countless ways to give back, and these basic strategies for making community engagement a priority can help you do so.

Rashan Dixon

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Co-founder of Techincon and Senior Business Consultant for Microsoft

Rashan Dixon is a senior business systems analyst at Microsoft, entrepreneur and a writer for various business and technology publications.

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