I ran in Houston's first Komen Houston Race for the Cure back in 1990. It was a small race, mostly attended by women, with a modest group of runners, supporters and sponsors. Last week, I walked in the Komen Denver Race for the Cure. It had been a few years since I'd been to this event, and I was absolutely amazed at the magnitude of people participating and the number of sponsors scattered throughout the course. There was free yogurt from Yoplait, pedometers at the Walgreens station, and scarves from Ford. These were just a few of the many supporters handing out goodies and fielding teams of walkers/runners listed on banners, T-shirts and web sites. The largesse of the event turned my thoughts to the sheer number of eyeballs that would see these banners, get a free chap stick to take home or a nice post-race breakfast to remember. It felt like the Super Bowl of "volunteerism marketing."
Why did Ford hand out free scarves that morning in Denver? Yoplait supports breast cancer research with their "Save Lids to Save Lives" campaign every year, donating 10 cents per lid redeemed to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, for what reason? Why do some companies support causes and others don't? Why do you? Why don't you? Perhaps it's the cynical side in me, but, maybe these companies are present at these events simply because it's good publicity. And guess what? From a public relations standpoint, it's great public relations. But certainly some of these companies are at these events because it's just the right thing to do.
And studies have shown that doing the right thing can help your business in the long run. I read a post by Ann Charles on the Fast Company expert blog. In that post she said this: "For consumers, the Internet and social media deliver a kaleidoscope view of a company's corporate culture. Given this new insight, consumers are exercising their right to patronize companies with values that mirror their own." Case in point, Chipotle Mexican Grill, headquartered in Denver, has its own foundation called the Chipotle Cultivate foundation, dedicated to creating a more sustainable and healthful food supply and to raising awareness concerning food issues. Who wouldn't look at this company and feel compelled to support them? It doesn't hurt that they have great food, too.
I asked some of the small business owners I know whether and why they support various causes. Most of the business owners I spoke with have organizations they regularly support, with money, time or pro bono work. And they do this for various reasons:
"I do pro-bono work for organizations and individuals for only one reason. It gives me an opportunity to give back. Everyone has something to give --time, talent, money, material goods. I can give time and talent. I have no thoughts of it eventually leading to more business. There is a wonderful satisfaction in just being able to help." Sue Lion, a Colorado-based graphic design and artist.
"I generally do a couple of pro-bono projects a year for organizations and businesses that I support as a way of giving back, and to generate more images for my portfolio. If it leads to more [business] then that's great but that's not my main motivation." Robert D. Jones, RDJonesPhoto.com.
Other colleagues offer up a blend of volunteerism -- offering pro bono work to nonprofits they are passionate about, and also sitting on boards of professional organizations to support that organization and promote their businesses.
I, too, have been involved with different organizations for any number of reasons. Alzheimer's has affected both sides of my extended family. To give back and honor my grandparents, I was a volunteer speaker for the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. This was a personal goal of mine, but it just so happens that while speaking for this organization, I repeatedly met people along the way that helped and supported my business. You never know who you are going to meet.
Is your company a giving company? Do you have a passion or a cause that you can support? I don't advocate supporting a charity just for appearances sake or because it might make a good story. I do believe that if you support a charity or a cause you truly believe in, the benefits you receive will come back to you, oftentimes exponentially.