Doing Well by Doing Good

Collecting tin
cc Howard Lake via Flickr

Perhaps because my roots (and heart) are in the non-profit sector, in my business I have always tried to find a way to support a charity whose mission dovetails well with mine.

In fact, when I first started Company of Women I would donate to the charity of the speaker’s choice, so I am now on the mailing list of some strange and diverse charities!

But as the business grew, I got more involved with charities that fitted well with what I was doing in Company of Women.

For example, we got involved with Opportunity International, an organization that provides microfinancing to women in developing countries. For as little as £40 women can get ahead with their business ventures, changing not only their lives but the lives of their family and those in the community.

First we launched our Give Change to Make Change project, through which we just collected change at the end of each meeting. You’d be surprised – it all adds up and we raised thousands for the charity, and the members felt empowered because they’d contributed.

But I wanted to get myself more involved personally so I became a governor of the organization and helped write a book, Faces of Opportunity, which told the stories of people supported by Opportunity International. I am proud to say that it raised over $20,000 for the charity and, in fact, led to my receiving TIAW’s World of Difference Award – a global award presented that year to 57 women from around the world.

I share that piece of information not to brag but to point out that sometimes when you give you gain even more, and while no one sets out on a project to receive an award, it sure is a nice pat on the back and increases your profile.

There are so many worthy charities and causes, so I like to change it up and spread the support. Always, the charities support women and girls in some capacity. This year we are getting behind Because I am a Girl and we will be weaving a special activity into our annual conference.

So how can you get started?

  1. Find a fit.  Think about what your company does. Is there a charity that fits your mandate? For example, if you manufacture sports equipment maybe hooking up with an athletics group would work.
  2. Go shopping.  Check out the charities in your community. Perhaps just start with donating a prize, get to know them. Working with a charity is just like any other collaboration: you have to like and trust each other as well as believe in the cause.
  3. Start small.  Get to know the charity of choice. Work with them to find ways you can get involved. If it goes well, then expand what you do together.
  4. Not always money.  It doesn’t always mean that you make a financial donation, more, lend your expertise or give in-kind services.
  5. Involve your staff/customers.  In this growing climate of corporate responsibility, share with your staff and customers that you are getting behind x charity and encourage them to get involved too.
  6. Make a commitment.  It doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment, but it is helpful for the charity to know that they can count on you for a set period of time.
  7. Respect the culture.  While as a business owner you can make instant decisions about what to do, for charities there’s more of a hierarchy and the staff will likely have to report back and get permission from their board. In other words, it may take longer than you think to move forward on an idea.
  8. Be responsive.  Last Christmas we supported a young family where the three-year-old daughter was very sick in hospital and the single mother was struggling to support her other children and be at the hospital with her daughter. We “did” Christmas for the family, with gifts for mom and the children as well as a food hamper and some money to help with the bills.

When you think about collaboration and partnerships, don’t forget about the opportunity to make a difference in the non-profit sector.  You may well gain more from the experience than you think.

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