Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Small business giving back to the community

small businessRecently I posed a question in a small business online forum, "How is your small business giving back to the community.?"

Quite frankly, I was staggered and inspired by the passionate responses to this question and the examples of how so many small businesses are providing both financial support as well as physical assistance to charities.

  • It's not just about the bottom line

It was uplifting to realise that many small business owners have actually based part of their business model on a commitment to giving back and it shows that it's not just the bottom-line that motivates people in small business (or for that matter, some of the corporate world either).

Some of these charities that small business owners support are reasonably well known - World Vision, Salvation Army, the Smith Family, Red Cross, UNICEF and others. But there were many examples of other charities supported by small business that are doing outstanding and courageous work, that perhaps fly "under the radar" in terms of their public profile.

I'd like to share with you just a few of the examples of small businesses that are contributing to some lesser known but worthy causes ....

1. Matchboard
Sharon Melamed is the founder and owner of Matchboard, a Sydney based on-line business that brings together companies who are wanting to outsource their business processes or back-office functions, and matches them with appropriate suppliers. This is what Sharon had to say ....
"We have thrown our support behind Good Return, a unique charity not many people of heard of, but which helps women in impoverished countries set up small businesses through loans (usually just a few hundred dollars). 99% of loans get returned - an incredible success rate for small businesses! ... Through Matchboard's massive network of buyers and suppliers, we have promoted Good Return to the extent that they have received more than $100,000 through our connections.
One of the reasons that my business has elected to support Good Return is because I can see exactly where my money is going, which makes it a very personal form of giving: you can literally pick the profile of a woman and her small business plan on the Good Return website, and know by name precisely who you helped and how. To think that a couple of hundred $ loan can make such a difference to the lives of a single family in Nepal or the Philippines is very moving. 
Good Return place a big emphasis on training. Aspiring small business women in these poor countries learn skills, such as how to write a business plan and manage cash-flow, thanks to Good Return. So they not only facilitate micro-finance but also deliver education, which is perhaps the reason they get almost all loans repaid"
2. Baby Jewels
Jennifer Gregory is the owner and founder of Baby Jewels, based in Queensland. "At Baby Jewels, we give $1 for every sale over $20 to Mahboba's Promise which is an Australian charity helping women and children in Afghanistan with accommodation, food and education. Take care of one woman and she will take care of 11 others in Afghanistan!"  ......                                         
I asked Jennifer to explain a little more about why she decided that giving back needed to be such a core part of her business and also why she selected her particular charity......
"The Internet is a wonderful, amazing resource. Every day as I work in my comfortable third bedroom which is now the office of Baby Jewels, I am made aware of the struggles going on in many parts of the world, merely to survive. It's patently obvious that those of us able to run small businesses in first world countries, are the lucky few. 
My daughter is a computer programmer with various specialties and she built my website. The subject of "giving back" came up in one of our business planning discussions. Yes, I definitely want to do that, I decided.
But where to start, to find a worthy charity? Because there are so many and all are worthwhile.  One little business can only help one little charity so we looked for a charity working in one of the saddest parts of the world, one which helped its most marginalised members of that population. 
That's when a friend told me about Mahboba's Promise, a charity for which she'd set up monthly deductions from her bank account. It didn't take long before we discovered Mahboba's Promise fulfilled our desired criteria.
Mahboba's Promise is an Australian charity run by Mahboba Rawi, who grew up in Afghanistan. Mahboba knows what it is to flee her home, to walk 10 days over the Kyber Pass to escape imprisonment for leading a student demonstration. After 2 years in a Pakistani Refugee Camp, she married and came to Australia, with a desire to help the most marginalised people in her home country: The women and children, particularly widows whose life in Afghanistan is particularly difficult.
When Mahboba's Promise first started working in Afghanistan, the needs of the widows and orphans were so basic that their work was mainly welfare orientated. Offering food, clothing and shelter to keep people alive was our primary goal. But as time went on, various projects were developed. Currently Mahboba's Promise is raising funds for community centres, a school for girls, a medical centre, a leadership training project, a permaculture project and an embroidery project.
The practical help aspect for women and children in Afghanistan appealed to me and Mahboba's Promise became Baby Jewels "Giving Back" project.
3. Kapow's Cleaning Services
Kelly Powell is the owner and co-founder (with her husband James) of Kapow's Cleaning Service, based on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. Her commitment to giving back is reflected in the hiring practices of her small business. She is simply an amazing woman....
"At Kapow's, we give back to the community a little differently. I actively hire people with challenges and work closely with agencies like Epic and Steps to ensure we have the right support available to set up the staff we hire for their success. To date, I have been only impressed with the work ethics and effort that my guys bring to work every day.
I am incredibly proud to say that we will build off this platform and I know it will be successful and fulfilling for all involved. In fact, my 3 year goal is to have at least 40% of my workforce sourced from these agencies. I think it is absolutely critical to involve as many people with challenges as I can, as not only does their self worth and confidence soar...but I get genuine ambassadors representing my business proudly and effectively.
I hire people without challenges as well and I set the expectation that if they can't be flexible and support people in general...they can't work for us. I can proudly say that we have an incredibly close team who focus on each others strengths...not weaknesses.

There is also a misconception by employers I think, that people with challenges are hard work. I have not found this to be the case. There is full support from the agencies I go through and the people I have hired are driven and enthusiastic. It also makes good financial sense as there are financial incentives offered by most of these agencies which for a small business is gold.  ..... What more could you want!

Obviously I could bang on about this topic for ever, because quite frankly it is my number one passion...and it all simply stems from my belief that life where possible should be fair......And given that I control the decision making in my business I think employing people with challenges that other employers might not look at, is about as fair as you can get.

I'd like to leave you with one last thought.  About three weeks into his new job, I asked an employee how he was going and what he thought of his job. He had been unemployed for a considerable amount of time (in fact I doubt this 40 yr old gentle giant has ever had a long term paying job)

Anyway he stood very tall and said that he was proud of himself. He has changed his diet and is going for walks so he can be fitter so he can do his job better. I said that was great! I knew he lived with his elderly father so I asked him what his dad thought. He stood tall and proud again and replied "my dad has called all of his friends and told them that his son had a real job where he gets paid".

That for me was close to the best moment ever...I still get teary thinking about it...and that was the moment when I really realised what it's all about."
4. JustMums
Rachel Perkins is the owner and founder of JustMums Recruitment based in Melbourne and this is what she had to share .....
"In our business, very early on we placed a priority on "giving back" and we took care to identify two charity partners that we wanted to work with. We donate a percentage of our profits, provide them with volunteers and happily promote their organisations through our wide network to raise awareness (and hopefully some additional funds to support their work) - We respect, admire and appreciate the work that so many of these wonderful charities and NFPs do within the community. I would encourage every small business to consider partnering with a charity of choice"                                 

My sincere thanks to Kelly, Jennifer, Rachel and Sharon for sharing their stories ...... Your contribution inspires me to be more committed to the principle of giving back through my own small business

So, what are some ways that your small business might give back?

1. Agree to provide work experience or work placement to students
2. Volunteer your business expertise and offer to go on the board of your local not-for-profit
3. Sponsor or support your local community association, such as Lions Club or Rotary
4. Donate goods or services for school and community fundraisers
5. Become a mentor to other new business owners or young people in the community
6. Support local small businesses by using local suppliers
7. Offer a scholarship for disadvantaged youth, and subsidise their school books and fees
8.  Give your staff some time-off to volunteer at a charity of their choice

9. Keep a collection tin for donations to your favourite local charity on your front counter
10. Have a look at our Charities page and see if something appeals to your heart

In closing, for those of you who have perhaps been hesitating about what you might do, then the words of Malcolm Bane might be worth considering ....
“If you wait until you can do everything for everybody, instead of doing something for somebody, you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody.”

I would invite you to share your story with us .......
Copyright 2013. Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development - a corporate training and coaching company based in Melbourne, Australia that delivers management training and leadership development services