Today's conscious customers want to see that the brands they patronize are giving back and supporting important social causes -- and in return, they're willing to remain loyal and spend more money with those companies. In fact, IO Sustainability research found that businesses committed to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable practices increased their sales by as much as 20 percent.

Of course, a huge part of a successful CSR strategy is choosing an initiative or cause that truly aligns with your brand. Doing so will resonate with your target audience and help them perceive you as a genuine, authentic company committed to their same ideals and values. Below, six entrepreneurs share how they selected the right organization or cause to support.

Ask the organization how far your donation really goes.

While all nonprofits need to allocate some of their donation funds to overhead expenses, some will keep more of your money than others. Colbey Pfund of LNFT Distribution recommends always asking an organization how your donation will be used before giving any money.

"I once spoke to a charity in town and learned that only 50% of my donation would go directly to the cause, so I moved on. If I am donating time and/or money, I want it to have as big an impact as possible," says Pfund. "Ask questions before you donate -- you might be surprised at what you learn."

Look for ways to support your fellow entrepreneurs.

Many entrepreneurs have had help getting to where they are today. What better way to give back than to pay it forward and offer help to those who want to be in your shoes?

Karlo Tanjuakio, CEO of GoLeanSixSigma.com, knew he wanted to provide mentorship and insights to aspiring entrepreneurs because he didn't have access to those opportunities when he was starting out. "I decided to be the change and be the mentor to others that I wish I had," Tanjuakio explains. "So, I began volunteering at a local high school in their mentorship program."

Make a difference in your own backyard.

Climate change is already having an impact on regions around the world, so sustainability initiatives in your local community are always a worthy cause to support, says Thursday Bram of The Responsible Communication Style Guide.

"It's rare to find a community that isn't already seeing some impact of climate damage," she says. "Choosing causes that guarantee your community will be around for decades to come should be a high priority. Without a community around it, what's the point of growing a business?"

Consider an organization that once helped you.

Were you enrolled in any programs or organizations as a student that shaped or influenced you? Kim Kaupe, co-founder of The Superfan Company, recommends looking to your past to dictate your future of giving back.

"I thought back to organizations I had engaged with when I was young, which lead me to Junior Achievement," Kaupe says. "From hosting business plan competitions to speaking at events with JA, I've found that volunteering with an organization that you've been through yourself has extra meaning."

Choose a cause that holds personal significance to you.

One great way to find the right cause is by finding an organization that does something meaningful to you personally. For example, Adam Wright, co-founder of Associated Graphics, knew he wanted to make a difference in the lives of children because his own children mean so much to him. He eventually landed on Wake the World, which provides water sports for underprivileged children.

"I started my own arm of the organization and hosted the first event this year, bringing more than 30 kids to a lake in Tennessee for a day of fun on the water," explains Wright. "My family and members of my staff were alongside me during the event, and the whole experience was so fulfilling." 

Ask your team what causes matter to them.

Don't have a personal connection to any particular causes? Give your team a sense of purpose by letting them choose where your company gets involved, says Aaron Schwartz, co-founder and COO of Passport.

"Nothing makes people feel better about the work they do than helping improve organizations that matter deeply to them," Schwartz says. "We can't all build businesses that change the world, but we can directly have an impact on the organizations that do."

Published on: Oct 22, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.