Every so often, I’ll come across a person who boldly claims, “I’m a self-made man. I got where I am today through hard work and discipline – no one ever gave me a leg up!”
And to that, I have to say, “Really?!”
No one ever offered you a job or taught you a skill that’s helped get you where you are today? No teacher ever helped you develop the discipline needed to run a successful business or taught you how to find the information you need on your own? No one in your life ever fed you, clothed you or provided the encouragement needed to motivate you through difficult times?
And if we’re going to get really technical about it, you can’t deny the extraordinary amount of privilege you already have, simply being born into financial position where you’re free to focus on building a company – and not fleeing war, poverty, famine or other crisis. No matter where you live or what type of situation you’ve been raised in, the ability to focus on work over simply staying alive makes you incredibly fortunate compared to others around the world.
Now, I’m not saying all of this to negate the value of the hard work you’ve put into your career or your company. Certainly, the extraordinary effort you’ve put into building your business or current project deserves recognition, and the last thing I’d want is for you to disregard the impact of your work simply because you’ve been born more privileged than others.
However, what I am saying is that – in some way or another – all of us have relied on the communities we’re part of for support at some point in our lives. And as such, we all have an obligation to find a way to give back to these communities in order to pass on the blessings we’ve been so very fortunate to receive.
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now…
Even if you aren’t sold on the idea that the contributions of others have played a major role in helping you to achieve the successes you’ve seen, consider that reaching out and helping others often results in some measurable type of benefit for you.
In fact, giving back to your community offers plenty of different perks, as outlined by Constant Contact CEO Gail Goodman, writing for Entrepreneur.com. In her opinion, giving back:
- 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
So whether you come to the idea of giving back to your community from a place of personal fulfillment or because you want to take advantage of the benefits involved in charitable work, the important thing is that you get started as soon as possible! Giving back to the people and organizations in your life doesn’t have to be a time-consuming, all-efforts-required thing – in fact, there are plenty of different ways you can give back using whatever amount of time or money you’re able to spare.
To get started, begin by making a list of all the different people, organizations or communities in your life that have affected you in some way. This could include anyone from the teacher who encouraged the passion you eventually turned into a business, to the networking contact who helped to get you your first official client. Don’t forget about your parents, past bosses, business mentors or other key figures that have helped you throughout your life!
As you make your list, make a note next to each name containing one specific way that you could give back to the people who have touched your life. Continuing with our example above, if you’ve chosen to list a special teacher, is there a way you could give back to the school system he or she is a part of? Many schools lack funding for new supplies and special programming, while other districts need volunteers to run extracurricular activities. Could you help to fill any of these needs?
Be careful also to identify the opportunities that match up with the resources you have available to dedicate to charity. For example, if the demands of your growing company mean that committing four hours a week to volunteer at your local food pantry simply isn’t feasible, don’t feel bad! Giving back to your community according to the amount of time or money that’s sustainable for you in the long run is a much better approach than burning out too quickly after overextending yourself!
Or if, after all that, you’re still struggling with how exactly to give back to your community, here are 37 different options for you to consider:
- Join SCORE, if your level of experience and industry knowledge qualifies you to provide guidance to new business owners.
- Offer to help set up at industry conferences or events.
- Offer to host a networking event and manage the administrative duties necessary to ensure that the event goes off without a hitch.
- Give presentations to local business groups, Chambers of Commerce, college classes or other organizations that share helpful industry information.
- Volunteer one day (or more, if you’re able to) at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter as a way of recognizing how lucky you are to be housed and fed regularly.
- Seriously consider all mentorship requests that cross your desk, and take on as many as you’re able to without compromising the time you need to invest in your business.
- Bring healthy snacks in to your office or offer other perks to recognize your employees for the contributions their hard work has made to your buisness.
- Post valuable (truly valuable – not just fluff or filler) content to your website’s blog to help other entrepreneurs who might be following in your footsteps.
- Send thank you notes to the people who have helped you in some meaningful way – whether that’s your parents, former teachers, business mentors or other contacts.
- Volunteer with career training programs that help job seekers polish their resumes, select appropriate interview clothes or improve some other element of the career-building process.
- Donate money to the causes you value if you aren’t able to give more of your time.
- Support the organizations and causes in your community that you care about by participating in fundraisers and helping them to raise awareness.
- Donate spare clothing that’s still in good condition to organizations like the Salvation Army, Society of St. Vincent or Goodwill.
- Donate time or canned goods to your local food pantry to help those who are less fortunate than you.
- Help a school in your community as a way of saying thanks for the education you received.
- Contribute books to your local library (come on – you know you have plenty of extra books you’ll never read again just sitting around on your shelves!)
- Donate a portion of your sales to an organization or cause that you care about. Be sure to let your customers and prospects know what you’re doing, as well as why the action means so much to you.
- Surprise a special person in your life with flowers, a note or some other token of your recognition.
- Reach out to people within your industry when you see them posting about their struggles on Facebook, Twitter and similar social networking sites.
- Volunteer outdoors by working with your local arboretum, botanical garden, trail system or other nature-based organization.
- Purchase products from local small businesses – rather than national chains – whenever possible.
- Support your area’s farmers and artisans by shopping at local farmers markets and art fairs.
- Visit www.volunteermatch.com and search for potential volunteer opportunities within your geographic area.
- Volunteer with your local literacy program to help ESL students master the English language and become more self-sufficient.
- If your industry sponsors a program like Doctors without Borders, participate yourself or support the program financially.
- Take part in your area’s Meals on Wheels program to help provide seniors in your area with nutritious meals.
- Hold free seminars on industry topics for women and minority business owners.
- Provide professional support – whether in the form of website maintenance, marketing and PR, program development or some other need – to charitable organizations in your area, based on your business strengths.
- Give back to your local environment by taking public transportation or biking whenever possible in order to save gas.
- Partner with Habitat for Humanity to construct low income housing in your community or support those who do by providing meals and drinks to their work sites.
- Take time out of your day to spend quality, “work free” time with your partner and your immediate family members.
- Volunteer at your local animal shelter or – if you can handle it – consider fostering abandoned pets until permanent homes can be found.
- Run a meetup group or coworking space in your area to give fellow business professionals the chance to network and interact with one another.
- Volunteer to work on the board of a non-profit organization to “do well by doing good.”
- Over-tip for exceptionally good service in order to put a smile on a hardworking waiter or waitress.
- Contact stores in your area that provide layaway services and offer to anonymously pay off items for patrons in need. This is especially effective around the holidays, when many layaway items are held by less-fortunate families trying to create a memorable day on limited means.
- Give blood. Community blood banks are frequently short on supplies, meaning that donation to the Red Cross or similar organization could literally save someone’s life.
Hopefully this should be enough to get your creative juices flowing. Keep in mind that it isn’t necessary to tackle all of these at once – even taking on a single one of these suggestions can be a good way to both give back to your community and promote your business.
What do you think? If you’ve taken action to give back to your community, how have you done it and what guidance can you offer to other business owners who are looking to contribute more within their own lives? Share your recommendations in the comments section below!