Years ago, I was participating in a company event building kennels for PAWs Atlanta, a local animal shelter. A fellow volunteer who saw us in our branded t-shirts came over to tell us he was a Kabbage customer, and his small business was donating the concrete for the kennel foundations. We cemented a valuable relationship--pun intended--with a simple act of community investment.
When my co-founder Rob Frohwein and I first started soliciting investors for our company, people asked us, "Why Atlanta?" True, there were very few tech companies in Atlanta compared to Silicon Valley, New York or Seattle at the time--but Atlanta is where we invested our time for years before we founded Kabbage.
We knew it had all the right components to build a successful company, because we were in it every day. We care deeply about people, about the lives our colleagues and customers have led, and those our children will one day lead.
Atlanta has reached a tipping point where big brands are launching or relocating, infusing the local and regional economies with new energy. Neither I nor Rob caused that trend, but we were part of the conscious choice to build up the talent resources and professional support in a city in whose potential we passionately believed. We didn't have to move to a tech center--we're helping to create one.
You probably already know the benefits of small businesses giving back, but you might feel that you don't have enough time or money. However, authentic engagement doesn't require a huge check or hiring a manager of community engagement. Instead, observe the community around you, talk with your team, and find ways to make your community a better place to do business.
Here's the simple hack to make community investment a company investment:
Do what you love.
Whatever you do in your off-hours, do it with special attention. If you foster rescued pets, or hike local wilderness areas, or hang out with your niece with special needs, you've already identified areas in your community that can benefit from your involvement.
Chances are, there are already designated adoption events or park clean-up days where you can enjoy the thing you love in a way that contributes constructively and visibly to your community. You never know where you'll meet your customers (like I did), potential clients, partners, or where you'll find your next game-changing hire.
Volunteer work can seem daunting or difficult to organize, but authentic community engagement can be as simple as integrating your brand into the volunteer work your team members do independently. Use your entrepreneurial creativity to identify community engagement that can express your company's values without feeling forced, or breaking the bank.
Amplify the efforts of your employees.
Supporting employees' individual efforts to engage with their communities is low-cost and high-reward. Encourage your team to add specific events to your company calendar, and invite everyone to participate.
If one person does a cure-walk, encourage others to join. Consider donating a service or product you produce. Identify a Junior Achievement entrepreneurship program and offer a tour of your business. Ask a local culinary institute to cater your next event. Use your storefront location as a public drop-off point for Toys for Tots or cans for your local food bank.
It doesn't need to require hours off the clock or writing large checks. Every action gets you and your company actively involved in the community you rely upon for new hires, customers and partners.
Corporate culture and employee retention receive an immediate benefit: Employees who know the company supports them in their individual passions feel more invested and less likely to go work somewhere else. You may also notice increased collaboration by teammates who feel more bonded by their work together outside the office, and even increased revenue as a result of enhanced engagement.
Wherever you are, authentic engagement starts with you. Every day, make yourself a little more into the person you want to be.
Those same simple, deliberate, daily decisions can meaningfully impact the company you want to create and contribute to a community you're excited to call home.