Are you looking for another option to add to your ongoing marketing and branding campaign, one that is neither content nor traditional marketing and yet has the potential to greatly enhance your professional network, increase your opportunities to acquire new clients and referrals and even allow you to enhance your skill set? Add philanthropy to your marketing campaign, as expressed by volunteerism, corporate social responsibility, sponsorships and donations and watch your sales grow!
Corporate social responsibility is now considered a best practice and there is a growing expectation that business and civic leaders, in particular, will “give back” and make a contribution to their community.
When Freelance consultants and leaders of for-profit organizations large and small, participate in philanthropy, it is a carefully evaluated business decision that’s part of a long-term personal branding and marketing campaign. Just because your payroll is small doesn’t mean that philanthropy will not deliver significant ROI to your brand and business. The selection of an organization to support will be strategic.
The first guideline is that you affiliate with organizations that have a mission you can support. Second, the organization should operate and be headquartered locally, to support your objective of having an impact among the movers and shakers in your business community, people who could become your customers or referral sources.
Third, if possible, aim to lend your pro bono support to an organization that somehow is connected to your product or service, or will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise or strengthen skills you’d like to build. Volunteering can provide avenues for professional development, as you take part in projects and committee work that allow you to stretch and acquire additional competencies.
For example, if your financial management skills are weak, merely listening to finance reports and discussions around them at board meetings can be instructive. Finance Committees even at small not-for-profits are often headed by very astute professionals.
Becoming a sponsor of a local charity event, from the Boy Scouts to an educational or skills development center, is an effective, possibly low-cost and minimal commitment method to get an inside look at an organization that interests you. A business card size ad in a fundraising event program book is a useful entrée and might cost as little as $200. Your ad will not hurt your marketing strategy and will be tax-deductible, as well.
Alternatively, you can take the sweat-equity route and volunteer your time and labor as an event day helper at a fundraising program. This strategy will allow you to attend the event and observe how the leadership interacts with its largest and most devout supporters. A board or event committee member will be appointed to supervise the volunteers, so you will be able to meet an insider and ask a few questions, along with getting a sense of the working style of the leaders (a very important consideration, BTW).
Speaking of sweat, you might decide to run, walk, bike, swim, or play golf or tennis in an athletic event sponsored by your chosen not-for-profit and ask friends and colleagues to sponsor you and help you donate to the organization. All gifts will be tax-deductible. Plus, you’ll have lots of networking opportunities and a good time.
Finally, if you can muster a larger philanthropy budget, you can simply call the organization, express your interest in its mission and ask to visit and take a tour. The Executive Director or another senior-level staff or board member will be happy to oblige. You may be recruited on the spot to join a committee, as a pathway to an invitation to join the Board. Be advised that there may be an expected annual donation of perhaps $500 or more.
Your experiences in charity event participation or sponsorships, or in board or committee service, will over time bring you into contact with many people. Meeting C-Suite professionals during your volunteer activities breaks down barriers and has the potential to facilitate building relationships with VIPs who will see you in action as you perform board or committee work.
If you need a well-placed reference, it will likely be granted and you may receive a referral or two as well, which would help your client list. You might even get so lucky as to find a well-connected sponsor who will champion you and your work and help you to grow your business (or career).
Publicize your philanthropy
Let current and prospective customers know about your philanthropic activities. In your curriculum vitae, bio, website and LinkedIn page, make note of your philanthropy, especially if you’ve joined a board or become an annual sponsor of, or participant at, a charitable event. In a 2013 study Cone Communications, a Boston-based PR and marketing firm and Echo Global Logistics, a provider of transportation and supply chain management systems headquartered in Chicago, found that 82% of B2B and B2C purchasers preferred to do business with organizations that practiced corporate social responsibility and 91% of responders said they would switch brands to one that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality.
I leave you with this: Luke Weil, founder of Andina Acquisition, which invests in companies in the Andean region of South America, encourages us to give without expecting anything in return. Your generosity and selflessness generate good Karma and positive energy and the spiritual benefits will do wonders for your psyche. Pay it forward.
Thanks for reading,
Image: Woman Giving Alms (date unknown, private collection), by Janos Thorma (Hungary, 1870 – 1937)