The first inquiries came from family friends and neighbors. Then strangers. And then, the unexpected: domestic violence victims, both women and men, who had little money but needed to quickly flee a dangerous situation. As more victims called, the Steed brothers realized they'd found a logical cause: moving these people for free. "It was pretty obvious that this was an important thing for us to do," says Aaron Steed, CEO. "I can't think of a more impactful way for a moving company to utilize their services. You're potentially saving a life every time you do it."
By finding a way to help their community, Meathead Movers joined a growing movement of entrepreneurs who make philanthropy a part of their operations. It's good citizenship, but it's also good business: 64 percent of customers prefer to buy from socially responsible companies, reports a study conducted last year by Good.Must.Grow., a Nashville-based marketing agency for socially conscious businesses. And it isn't overly complex or challenging to create a program -- all you need is the right intentions and helpful partners.
There's no one way to create a successful philanthropic program that resonates with customers. But the following five tips will get you started.
1. Choose the right cause
It's best to champion a cause that naturally aligns with your product or service, whether you run a pet-gear company that donates leashes to animal shelters or a taxi fleet that give free rides to cancer patients. That way, you guarantee it resonates with your customers -- they already care about the subject, after all -- and doesn't seem tacked-on or forced.
2. Build partnerships wisely
Unless you're a bona fide expert in polar bears or child malnutrition, you'll need the help of a social service organization with boots on the ground to execute an ambitious philanthropic program. There will be many to choose from, so take your time, and choose a partner whose mission and image fits with yours.
3. Get employee buy-in
Ensure that staff members understand and support your charitable program. "It's important that this is something that lights up your employees when they talk to their friends and family about it," Steed says. If they're engaged, they're more likely to want to contribute their own time and efforts-which will make your impact even greater.
4. Promote authentically
There's a thin line between sharing the details of your giveback program with the world and shamelessly milking it. Telling the story of how you came to champion your pet cause will help you sound genuine but be careful not to make the message entirely about you and your big heart.
5. Build your program organically
Giving back doesn't have to decimate your bottom line. Fletcher of Tessemae's All Natural advises starting small, donating only as many goods, services, or hours as your business can handle.
Of course you'll want to plan and carefully think your program through -- but you should feel free to launch it even if it's not perfect. Learn as you go and tweak as needed, much like you did when fleshing out your startup thesis. You have the skills to improve: As a 'trep, you're already hardwired to devise innovative solutions on a dime, including in the name of philanthropy. "That can be terrifying, especially for a startup, when you want to hang on to as much cash as you can," says verynice's Manos. "But maybe there is a way that you can give some product, or some mentorship or some advice. There are just so many ways to make an impact that don't require you to write a check."
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