When you lend support through goods, services, or time, you're strengthening your community -- making it a better place to live and do business. In turn, your business reaps some benefits: You'll stand out from your competition, your product or service is showcased prominently before the public, and you'll gain visibility not enjoyed by every firm. Here are some examples of how your small business can strengthen worthy causes.

Donate your talents. A hair salon teams up with a nonprofit job referral service and offers unemployed job seekers a free haircut and manicure before they go out on interviews. A graphic design firm donates its services to arts organizations in its community and is now regarded as the quality place for typesetting work.

Be a part of the solution. If your community is suffering from a shortage of qualified labor, there are ways you can help improve the future pool of laborers. The National Alliance for Business, for example, encourages business owners to enhance classroom curriculum by speaking to students about their professions and what it takes to be successful. If computers, other equipment, or resources are needed, get your networking pals to all contribute to the expense of meeting a particular need in your community.

Pick an appropriate cause based on your own or customers' interest. Align yourself with worthy causes by identifying core needs, problems, or opportunities in your community. Then pick a cause that it's appropriate for you to be associated with. If your business caters to families, consider supporting youth sports, child welfare projects, or literacy. If your product appeals to women, consider supporting spousal abuse programs, shelters, or breast cancer awareness campaigns.

Eight out of 10 people say they purchased from a business because they approve of its involvement with the community. Position yourself as a community giver, and you'll benefit from the goodwill effects that advertising alone cannot buy.

Copyright © 2000 Kimberly Stansell. All Rights Reserved.