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OWNER'S MANUAL

6 Ways to Give Back

Success isn't just a reward; it's a responsibility. Celebrity chef Eric Ripert shares six ways any business can make a difference by giving back.

To a remarkable entrepreneur, success is not only a reward—it's a responsibility.

That's because remarkable entrepreneurs do more than make money. They view success not only as a way to improve their lives, and the lives of their employees, but as a means to improve the lives of other people by giving back.

Any small business, no matter how successful, can give back. All it takes is a dash of effort and a dollop of creativity.

And while getting a return on your "doing good" investment is not the goal, your business will definitely benefit from the exposure and goodwill generated by acts of kindness.

For ideas on giving back I turned to Eric Ripert, Chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin, a frequent guest judge on Top Chef, and the host of the PBS series Avec Eric. (Full disclosure: I had dinner at his restaurant some years ago and... let's just say I wouldn't be surprised if heaven's caterer is Le Bernardin.)

Ripert and his employees support City Harvest, a charitable organization that collects over 30 million pounds of unused food from restaurants, caterers, and markets each year and distributes it to hungry New Yorkers.

He's clearly a master of giving back: Last month an anonymous bidder at the annual City Harvest gala paid $200,000 for Ripert to prepare a dinner for 20 in his or her home.

Here are his tips:

1. Donate what you can't use.

Every restaurant or market has unused food; Le Bernardin is no different. Businesses in almost every industry wind up with unused or obsolete (at least from a sales point of view) products and supplies.

And don't forget services, especially if your business is seasonal and you have unused capacity.

What don't you use? How can you create value for someone else by re-purposing what you don't use?

People in need obviously benefit, but so do your employees, because they genuinely appreciate when you create the opportunity for them to make a difference.

2. Teach.

The best way to make a long-term impact is to help people help themselves. Ripert and his staff do cooking demos at City Harvest's mobile market. You can teach an organization to maintain its own website, or handle its bookkeeping, or create more effective outreach materials... charities are often the ultimate in bootstrapping. Anything you can help a charity, or the people it serves, do more efficiently helps their dollars go farther.

Volunteer your time. Volunteer the time of your team as well, but only during work hours. Giving should be voluntary, not mandatory.

3. Fundraise as a team.

You don't have to spend money from your own pocket. The City Harvest Skip Lunch Fight Hunger program encourages New Yorkers to donate what they would have spent on lunch—say, $10—to help feed children who don't have access to school lunches during the summer months. (City Harvest can feed 37 children with a $10 donation.)

The more specific the cause, the more likely people are to participate. You can participate in an established event or create your own. The more creative the better—and the more likely you will be to inspire others to give.

Plus there's a side benefit: In the process you will create a sense of community and shared purpose within your team.

4. Participate in a fundraising event.

Auctions are a popular way for organizations to raise money; often bidders will pay more than the value of the item as a way to help support the organization (especially since the amount of the bid that exceeds the fair market value of the item is tax-deductible.)

And even though it's not the point, in the process you might gain a long-term customer.

5. Create a win-win partnership.

Ripert created a City Harvest lunch menu at Le Bernardin, donating a portion of the cost of the meal to City Harvest.

Any business can do the same with specific products or services; the key is to make the tie-in as direct as possible. That way you not only raise money, you naturally help raise the organization's profile as well.

And you give your customers an easy way to make a difference; that's something customers genuinely appreciate.

6. Use your platform as a business leader to draw attention to a cause.

Almost every organization hopes to create ties to local business owners and community leaders. Ripert appears in City Harvest ad campaigns and speakers on its behalf.

You can do the same. Offer testimonials. Offer to speak at an event and share why you feel the cause is important. Offer to serve as a contact or source for local media seeking quotes or background information. If you aren't sure how to help, just call your favorite organization and say, "How can I help you spread the word about the great things you do?"

The person you call will definitely have ideas—and they'll appreciate the fact that, for once, someone came to them with an offer to help.

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Last updated: May 21, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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