About two decades ago, my business partner and I were having a discussion about the growth of our company when the conversation drifted to the volunteer work we'd been doing. At some point, we both came to the realization that our involvement with nonprofits had actually added great value to our firm.
Both of us had been volunteering since high school, so the light that went on above our heads that day was in no way cynical. My opinion is that the purity of an act need not be diminished simply because it benefits the principals in more than one way.
That being said, as part of an overall business and life plan, you need to partake in community involvement because it's quite literally the perfect avocation. It's great for the charity and the people it supports, it's good for the community at large, it's great for you personally, and through fundraising and recruitment, volunteering will increase your name recognition while introducing you to like-minded benefactors, fundraisers and donors, making it great for the establishment of your brand and the growth of your company.
FINDING AND VETTING A CHARITY
The first thing you need to do is locate a fit that's ideal for you. This may be no more difficult than asking some of your clients where they dedicate their time. But when it comes to selecting your charity, a client referral is only the beginning. You want to find a nonprofit that is local, has tax-exempt status, has clearly defined goals, a realistic mission statement, is nonpolitical, and would benefit from your expertise.
Sounds pretty simple, right?
Once you've zeroed in on a charity, you need to search for chinks in the armor. First, take multiple trips to the facility. Ask the people they purport to assist if they are actually being served. Next, interview the employees or volunteers and make certain they believe they are making a difference (and not just collecting a check or passing time). Lastly, head out into the surrounding neighborhood and find out what the people who live nearby think of them. Effective nonprofits should also be good neighbors.
CHOOSING YOUR LEVEL OF COMMITMENT
Let's break community involvement down into three levels of commitment, and then outline some of the pros and cons of each. An entry level for involvement would simply be writing a check to a charity of your choice (remember, always local). It feels good, it takes very little time and nonprofits always need cash.
But first-level involvement is clearly not going to help you build your brand, and you certainly have more to offer a charity than mere financial support. Second-level involvement drastically moves the needle in a positive direction for all concerned parties. You identify a worthwhile charity and contribute money (if possible), but this time, you also volunteer your time and professional expertise. Your experience managing money makes you an ideal candidate to be a fundraiser, controller or board member, while your experience running a company places you miles ahead of the typical nonprofit employee who often lacks familiarity with marketing and balance sheets.
Yet while a second level of involvement is admirable, the third level should be your goal. At the highest level you contribute money, time and expertise, but the piece-dé-resistance is event sponsorship. This level of commitment means that all concerned parties realize the greatest benefit. The nonprofit receives your talents and expertise, while you realize the benefits of helping your community at the same time you get to meet like-minded benefactors who may someday become clients. The icing on the cake is the invaluable brand awareness that comes with having your name associated with a respected and worthwhile charity event. (Envision a banner that reads: “The Smith & Jones Advisers Fun Run to Benefit the Houston Food Bank.”)
While there are other avenues by which you can reap the professional and emotional benefits of helping your community (joining a museum board or organizing your own charity event, just to name two), I encourage you to get involved and start making a difference. The worst thing that can happen is you make a positive impact on someone else's life. The best outcome is that you and your firm grow while simultaneously teaming up with a nonprofit that actually makes the world a better place. Like I said earlier, community involvement is indeed the perfect avocation. It's an “everybody-wins” proposition.
Scott T. Hanson, is a financial adviser, senior partner and founding principal of Hanson McClain Advisors, author and radio host of "Hanson McClain's Money Matters."