As the holiday season fast approaches, business owners are doubling down on efforts to give back to local organizations and nonprofits. Why — and how — should your business connect with and support your community?
Giving back to the community makes your business stand out in the market and increases its chances of reeling in new customers. Plus, a business's charitable efforts play a huge role in employee recruitment and retention.
“A business that can show the tangible benefits of supporting its community will be able to help its employees grow and develop into more than just a cog in the machine,” says Deepanshu Bedi, Marketing Director of Holistapet.
To get started, here are 16 suggestions from entrepreneurs on how your business can support your local community — from the holidays, into next year, and beyond.
1. Volunteer at a Toy or Gift Drive
Nonprofit organizations donating toys and gifts during the holidays are often strapped for volunteer help. To lend a hand, ask your team to participate in a company-wide volunteering event. Schedule the event during business hours to encourage more involvement (more on this later).
2. Match Employees’ Charitable Donations
Only 65% of Fortune 500 companies offer donation matching. The rest are missing out on a great way to amplify individual contributions. If your small business can afford it, consider offering some sort of donation matching, even if it’s just 10–20%.
3. Offer Your Space for Local Organizations
If you have a sizable office space or venue location, consider offering it up as a free space for local organizations to meet or rehearse. The overhead cost of renting space is often too much for small nonprofits to bear, so this will provide much-needed relief for cash-strapped organizers.
4. Lead a Food Drive
This initiative works whether you’re based in a small town or a bustling city. "There are always hungry people seeking a warm meal during the holidays,” says Stephan Baldwin, founder of Assisted Living. However, he suggests businesses do more than just hand out canned goods or highly processed foods.
“You can partner with care providers within your area to offer nourishing meals that pertain to the health status of your community members," says Stephan. "For example, if there’s a high incidence of diabetes or heart disease, offer holiday-themed meals that are low in sodium and metabolic-friendly.
“In this way, your community effort could also double as a memorable teaching moment for residents. There’s no rule saying you can’t enjoy holiday meals if you want to stay healthy — why not prove this to those around you?”
5. Assemble Teacher Appreciation Bags
“Most teachers do not have the privilege of having classroom materials and resources purchased by the school or district,” says Natalie Morozova of Cohen, Tucker & Ades P.C., an immigration law firm.
“Teachers often use their own money to stock their classroom and make it a positive environment for learning. Thus, packing book bags of school supplies for teachers is a worthy volunteer opportunity for a small business to support the community during the holiday season.”
6. Develop a Culture Committee
To show true commitment to social and environmental initiatives, develop a culture committee responsible for educating your team on the specific issues faced by underrepresented or marginalized communities.
Another added bonus: The committee can regularly poll your team and keep a pulse on your overall company culture.
7. Pause Outreach or Sales Efforts in Areas Affected by Hardship
If your business conducts email outreach or phone sales, have your sales team freeze any cold communication efforts in geographic areas that may have recently been affected by environmental hardship or tragedy. At the very least, this shows your respect for boundaries and sensitivity to the community's situation. Ideally, you should couple this symbolic action with tangible relief and support via donations.
8. Stock Products Made by Diverse and Locally Owned Companies
If you operate a brick-and-mortar retail business, incorporate as many goods from diverse and locally owned companies as possible. Use your business to amplify other small businesses and become a key player in your community's growth.
If you have a brick-and-mortar office that’s not a retail store, a great alternative is stocking snacks, coffee, and personal care products from local businesses. If you're unsure where to start, ask employees which local brands they'd like to see.
No brick-and-mortar space? No problem! Even if you operate a 100% virtual office, you can offer your employees stipends to businesses in the area.
9. Encourage Working From Home When Possible
Working from home not only encourages more of a work-life balance (more on that later), but it also cuts down on your workforce’s carbon footprint by eliminating drive time. The commute time and gas money saved by your employees can then be reinvested into the community through volunteer work and donations.
10. Ask Your Community What It Needs (Instead of Assuming)
When it comes to community building, it's often better to ask — not tell. “We like to find out which community service activities we can participate in," says Bedi. "Many organizations need volunteers to help with the holiday season, so we contact them and see what they need.
“We also ask our employees to volunteer as well," he continues. "This can be a great way to get our business known to the community and support each other. We believe it's essential to show the community that you are an active participant, not just a business.”
11. Create a Composting System at Your Office
Your business might be recycling, but is it composting? If you operate in the food space, composting may be required by your city or state. But in more traditional office spaces, what happens to those food scraps, coffee filters, and tea bags that accumulate throughout the day?
If your city doesn’t provide curbside compost pickup, search for “office composting” or “business composting” in your area to find local composting companies. Remember to include adequate signage so that all employees know what should be composted, what should be recycled, and what should be sent to a landfill.
12. Donate Your Products and Services
If you have extra time or surplus product, why not give it to a good cause? Lean into your relationships with local organizations, and offer your services when you can. If your graphic designer has extra hours, ask them to create promotional flyers for a local pet shelter. If your café has bagels that are about to go bad, peddle them over to a local food bank. Even small gestures can have a big impact.
13. Close the Business for a Volunteer Day
Put your money where your mouth is and close business operations for a dedicated volunteer day. Encourage picture updates on social media and in Slack (or whichever messaging platform your business uses).
14. Give Discounts to Community Heroes
If you can afford it, show your appreciation for community members by offering a discount to firefighters, police, healthcare workers, teachers, students, seniors, veterans, and other local groups.
15. Choose a Monthly Charity for Amazon Smile
While Amazon may not be the first company that comes to mind when thinking about supporting small local businesses, you and your workforce are bound to shop there eventually. Amazon Smile gives a percentage of all sales to your charity of choice. According to the site, they’ve generated nearly $400 million in donations to U.S. charities since their inception.
16. Invest in Employees’ Work-Life Balance
With all your efforts focused on how you can impact the areas around you, it can be easy to forget about the people right under your nose. As a business, it’s your responsibility to make sure your workforce feels supported, appreciated, and rested — especially during the holidays. Before investing time and money in outside organizations, make sure to take care of your own people through benefits packages, competitive pay, and intangible acts like words of recognition and encouragement.
There are endless ways for your business to give back to the community this holiday season — this list is just a kickoff point. And don't forget that these ideas aren't only for the holidays. They can be done at any time throughout the year.
Karlie Kramer has over 6 years of experience in content marketing, from technical SEO and blog writing to team management and client success. She enjoys pouring over an obscene amount of cookbooks, tending to her veggie garden, and snuggling with her cat, Percy.