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5 Non-Monetary Ways Entrepreneurs Can Give Back to Their Communities

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Writing a check to the charity of your choice is fast and easy. But is that always the best way for you to give back to your community? As it turns out, maybe not.

Forbes contributor and social justice commentator Morgan Simon identifies three main problems with the status quo of charitable giving. First of all, even the most generous contributions are woefully inadequate for addressing the entrenched, systemic problems plaguing so many of our communities. Secondly, this type of philanthropy is the exclusive domain of the wealthy, which invariably skews both the causes addressed and results. Third, well-heeled philanthropists, their foundations, and the for-profit companies they represent often work at cross-purposes.

This isn’t to say that nothing good can come from donating money to reputable charities. It is to say that there are other and perhaps better ways you can do good and make a discernible difference.

Start by considering these five non-financial alternatives to traditional charitable giving.

1. Give generously of your time and attention.

What is most lacking these days, especially in the wake of isolation wrought by the 2020 pandemic, is a personal touch. You just can’t drop-ship a caring attitude into difficult circumstances.

What you can do is donate that most precious of commodities…your presence.

For example, employees at Hennessey Digital, an entirely virtual company, zeroed in on providing a personal touch to people in need during their first Day of Giving. One thing you’ll notice about their combined efforts is a consistent theme of using their identified skills but pouring them into an effort for others. It’s one thing to get a greeting card in the mail, which is always nice, but it’s something else altogether to get a card that has very obviously been drawn by hand.

Another possibility is that you could encourage deeper connections in the community by giving your employees paid time to attend and report back on city council meetings, invite community leaders in for lunches and brainstorming sessions, or spend time coaching kids at the local high school. Getting consistently involved with the local chamber of commerce is good for business, of course, but encouraging authentic connections with civic leaders, teachers, first responders, local nonprofits, and the like can result in good for the entire city.

2. Recruit volunteers for the occasional roadside cleanup.

Litter is one of those highly visible social ills that persist despite our best efforts. More than a century after people first began throwing their trash out of car windows, we keep coming back time and time again to the same roadsides to pick up after them.

It’s a maddening situation, but it’s also not hard to see how a team from your company can help. For best results — and a little free advertising on the side — officially “adopt” a stretch of roadway and schedule regular cleanup visits on team-building days. You may even want to print special T-shirts with your company logo for crew members. Why not let people in your community see that you care about something other than profits?

3. Adopt a garden and donate its harvest to the local food bank.

Adopt a garden plot in a public or shared space and have your team beautify the town in a different, perhaps gentler way. Your team might simply plant flowers and do what it can to beautify that part of town, and that’s great.

Alternatively, as a win-win effort, you might plant a modest crop, bring fruits and/or vegetables to maturity, and then donate the produce to a local food bank. (Make sure you coordinate ahead of time with food bank officials to avoid misunderstandings or wasted effort.)

You really don’t need to have bona fide green thumbs working for you in order to successfully maintain a thriving garden plot. You only need a dedicated group of people willing to get down on their hands and knees to weed, clip, and water on a semi-regular basis.

4. Organize a non-perishable food drive.

Organizing a non-perishable food drive is so easy, middle schoolers can do it. That’s not a slight in the least against the enterprising student members of the Beta Club at Jonesville Elementary/Middle School, a public school in small-town South Carolina. To their credit, these students organized a holiday canned food drive that brought in more than 900 items, enough to feed dozens of local families through the holidays.

Nothing prevents your organization from doing the same. Nor should you feel limited by the holiday calendar. Food-insecure families need help throughout the year. Efforts such as this need a “champion” within your company, though. At least one of your employees — preferably a shared responsibility among more than that — will need to organize dropoff dates, interact with civic leaders to solicit only canned goods that can be put to good use, and so on.

5. Participate in a mentorship program.

Mentoring at-risk youth is a fantastic way to give back to your community over the long haul. Sharing your time, skills, and insights with young learners can be challenging, even discouraging at times. Should your employees choose to participate, they will need to be prepared for that possibility. You can’t always predict how relationships will unfold or even whether you’ll get through.

All that said, the work of providing a leg up to those at risk of sliding into poverty is too important not to do. If your company can be responsible for helping even one kid or young adult realize their dreams, you’ll have done more than you can possibly imagine.

Don’t let everything your company does be about the bottom line.

Business leaders are hard-wired to keep watch over the bottom line, and that’s a good thing. After all, companies provide a meaningful service to their communities by keeping people employed (and paying taxes). Profit margins are important, yes, but the school of thought that focuses exclusively on dollars is going by the wayside.

Entrepreneurs know that there’s more to doing well than squeezing every last cent out of the marketplace. They believe that their companies have a collective responsibility to support healthier, safer, empowered communities. They also know that healthier communities are ultimately better for business, too.

Many recognize that the best ways to work toward this goal are not strictly financial. Writing a check usually doesn’t hurt, but there are often more efficient ways to give back. In addition to the ideas presented above, entrepreneurs can set aside time to write letters to military veterans. They can offer to train the unemployed and the underemployed. Most importantly, they just need to get outside established comfort zones and interact with new people on a semi-regular basis.

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