Giving back is becoming a bigger part of business today, whether you are a large company or a burgeoning start-up. Big companies have a lot of resources, but what can small companies do to give back to their communities?

I started my business seven years ago. I was following the entrepreneurial bug that had been swirling around in my ear for years during big company life. As most things are when you follow your heart, it has been gratifying, fulfilling, and a lot of fun to put my own stamp on business the way I want to do it.

Whereas I feel great about my company and how I am making a good life for my family, I have always felt like I should be giving back.

But how could a small company actually do much in the way of charity?

I decided to call in an expert. I reached out to a close friend and business colleague of mine. Steve Tepper is the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Center in Miami, Florida, and has been building and managing large scale charity organizations in the communities where he has lived and worked for the last 20 years.

I was pleasantly surprised that getting started is a lot easier than I had thought. Here are four easy first steps he passed along:

1. Find something you care about, and create a vision for how to help

For me as an ex-musician, it was music. With budget cuts in schools, there are many places where underprivileged children have no access to music in communities that aren't very far from where I live and work. I decided that this would be where I could make a difference and feel very much connected to it.

I developed a vision of donating musical instruments and helping underprivileged communities build music centers.

Yours may be something completely different, but Steve stressed to me that it is really important to spend as much effort and thought figuring out our charitable vision as we do figuring out our business vision for our companies.

2. Research and vet viable and legitimate opportunities

This might be the hardest part. The bottom line is that there are a lot of places out there looking for help. Like many other things, though, what I learned is that there are qualifications organizations need to have met to be legitimately able to receive and manage charitable funds and support.

Steve guided me to start doing my due diligence just like evaluating a business deal.

Identify those groups out there that look like they are interested in the same causes you are, and then dig deep before contacting any of them for in person discussions.

I hired a professional with some good experience in working with charities to help vet this for me. You might want to do the same.

3. Determine how much you can contribute

If you are like me and setting up your charitable vision and foundation for the first time, Steve suggested that I just take a small step the first year.

I did some research for my own cause and found that even just a few thousand dollars could make a significant impact. Even if you can't contribute a lot, with creativity and resourcefulness, a lot can be done.

4. Go meet with your top candidates

As Steve described it to me, this is not unlike any interview any of us have gone on before in our business lives. You are assessing how well you could work with them, what their vision might be for how to use the funds and work with your foundation, and how well you personally connect and are aligned.

It is an opportunity to collaboratively talk about the vision for how the charitable funds would be spent, what the outcome would look like, as well as how involved you would be with the group doing the work.

These first four steps are the basics to getting started. I have found that I'm not only excited and motivated to start the charitable work through my company but that I am re-invigorated about my business because of the greater positive impact it can have as I move into 2017.

Published on: Dec 6, 2016
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