For small busi­ness­es and com­pa­nies with lim­it­ed resources, it’s the tru­ly cre­ative, out-of-the-box solu­tions that suc­ceed — from prod­uct devel­op­ment to adver­tis­ing to employ­ee-reten­tion pro­grams. The same is true of cor­po­rate giv­ing. Instead of scrib­bling a few checks each year, be cre­ative. Align your char­i­ta­ble giv­ing with your cor­po­rate vision to get the most out of your phil­an­thropic efforts.

This type of giv­ing — com­mon­ly known as strate­gic phil­an­thropy — helps the com­mu­ni­ty and enhances your company’s rep­u­ta­tion with your cus­tomers. Strate­gic phil­an­thropy isn’t about dis­guis­ing self-serv­ing activ­i­ties under a veil of good inten­tions or adopt­ing a cause mere­ly to sell prod­ucts. It’s about show­ing con­sumers that your com­pa­ny cares about its com­mu­ni­ty.

Stud­ies show that today, more than ever, con­sumers notice a company’s social con­science. In fact, con­sumers indi­cate that when all else is equal, they pre­fer to buy from a com­pa­ny that’s asso­ci­at­ed with a good cause. It’s not dif­fi­cult to lever­age your char­i­ta­ble activ­i­ties to ben­e­fit your com­mu­ni­ty, your employ­ees, and your busi­ness­es. The fol­low­ing tips can help you get start­ed:

  • Think small. Inves­ti­gate orga­ni­za­tions in your com­mu­ni­ty where small­er dona­tions and lim­it­ed resources can have a big impact. Or sup­port a new project or non­prof­it group. You’ll gen­er­ate inter­est in a less­er-known cause and see first­hand how your efforts make a dif­fer­ence.
  • Do what you know. Your con­tri­bu­tions should be a log­i­cal exten­sion of your busi­ness. Think about how you can lever­age your prod­ucts, ser­vices, and areas of exper­tise. Then align your com­pa­ny with an orga­ni­za­tion that com­ple­ments your prod­uct. For exam­ple, if you sell food prod­ucts, sup­port an anti-hunger pro­gram. If you pro­vide per­son­al ser­vices, work with a local job-train­ing pro­gram for the poor. Help­ing a non­prof­it group devel­op per­son­nel poli­cies or mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als may not sound as hero­ic as build­ing hous­es, but if it’s what the group needs, pro­vid­ing it with your ser­vices pro bono will be an enor­mous help.
  • Lead by exam­ple. Set­ting up a char­i­ta­ble pro­gram demon­strates to your employ­ees that your com­pa­ny doesn’t exist sole­ly to make a buck. It shows them that you’re will­ing to invest in the com­mu­ni­ty where they live, which may moti­vate them to par­tic­i­pate.
  • Cre­ate a part­ner­ship. Your rela­tion­ship with non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions should be a part­ner­ship of equals. In many cas­es, the orga­ni­za­tion will ben­e­fit more by devel­op­ing a part­ner­ship with you than by receiv­ing a one-time cash dona­tion. And you’ll prob­a­bly find that it’s more reward­ing to par­tic­i­pate in social change as well as fund it.
  • Spread the word. Most non­prof­its have lim­it­ed pub­lic­i­ty resources, so take the ini­tia­tive to pro­mote your char­i­ta­ble activ­i­ties. Devote space on your Web site for a lit­tle PR about your part­ner­ship or call the local news­pa­per and pitch the sto­ry as a com­mu­ni­ty-inter­est piece. The peo­ple in your com­mu­ni­ty should know how you and the orga­ni­za­tion are work­ing to improve the com­mu­ni­ty.