Whatever industry vertical your business serves, "local" is where you work and live. Engaging those around you who are solving problems in the community is the mark of a responsible corporate citizen. While many businesses experience the rewards of giving financially, the benefits of real engagement extend much further than any satisfaction you may receive by writing a check.

Our products and services may solve problems and serve others in some capacity, but charitable organizations, doing awesome things with literally nothing to profit, bring a perspective you won't find elsewhere. Conversely, your experience and business acumen are valuable to those that are on the front lines of your community.

When BJ Emerson started his marketing agency Buzzadelic in 2013, his vision to find and tell awesome local stories found him engaging many of the non-profits in his hometown of Greenville, NC.

"I knew the most effective work we were going to do was local, and there was plenty of opportunity to raise the bar here as compared to larger markets, particularly with non-profits."

For Emerson, providing these organizations with marketing help meant very small budgets in the beginning, but they had great stories. He continues, "I love the Annette Simmons quote:

For us, engaging these organizations meant helping them tell those stories and it has brought us to some very interesting places as a business."

Businesses of every kind can find value in direct engagement, and the opportunity for disciplines of all kinds to impact change is tremendous.

Here are 4 things to consider:

1. Non-profits know the pulse of the community.

These organizations know where the needs are and have experience in addressing them. Engaging the people that serve others every day not only helps you understand the challenges faced in your community but it allows for more effective charity work. If you're looking to do something good, don't reinvent the wheel. Partner with those already working on the problems where you live. What better way as an entrepreneur to understand the problems people are experiencing and gain insight into how your company can help solve them?

2. Engaging non-profits builds corporate culture.

Identifying with causes that are important to you and your employees provides great opportunity to demonstrate and build alignment around your vision, mission, and values.

Emerson says, "As a new business we had the opportunity to paint whatever we wanted on our blank canvas. Coming alongside people who are doing things we value really brings some depth to the culture we wanted to develop at Buzzadelic."

One such organization is a local community center serving at-risk youth. Their business office just happened to be next door and their ongoing arts programs helped kids discover their gifts and talents.

"We started creating fundraising videos and put some of the kids in front of and behind the camera. They had a blast and so did our staff. I'm not sure who was impacted more to be honest."

Breathing life to our highly polished mission statements means stepping into someone else's reality and laboring alongside them. This is where culture is defined and developed, not the C-suite.

3. You grow as they grow.

Whether you are supporting a non-profit with a service of some type or partnering through volunteering, your growth is tied to their growth and your joint impact in the community will increase as well.

Emerson continues, "Our projects grew bigger year after year along with the production budgets. The most recent project helped us grow in capacity and was the most rewarding yet."

The project he refers to was a short film that premiered at a very successful fundraising banquet. One young man who attended the non-profit's program for 7 years has now been nominated best lead actor for that short film at the largest film festival of its kind.

James Haskins is executive director of the non-profit called Building Hope Community Life Center. "We couldn't do what we do without the business partnerships we have in the community. This is a great example of how others can come alongside us and make a difference in the lives of those we serve."

4. Non-profits do more with less.

If your employees think they face challenges with projects, allow them to experience the creativity and resourcefulness of those faced with raising funds, solving problems, building unique relationships and stretching every dollar to meet their objectives.

Emerson says: "Engaging these organizations really helps put things in perspective in a number of ways. I think we take things like budgets for granted. Their passion and determination is impressive and we can all learn from that."

It's hard sometimes to rationally justify the ROI of truly engaging non-profits as a business. But understanding problems, gaining insights, gaining perspective, and building corporate culture are all reasons it's well worth the effort.

Published on: Jun 29, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.