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Slow Growing? Community Engagement Is The Missing Piece

Community engagement gets talked about a lot, but if you’re a small business trying to outshine the competition it could be the missing element you need. But what does effective community engagement look like? While it’s easy for big businesses to engage in corporate giving – TD Bank, for example, has their own charitable foundation – smaller companies can act in equally meaningful ways. The key is to tap into what your community needs, and as a local business you’re uniquely situated to connect with those service gaps.

In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s not enough to know your product or master social media; you have to offer something extra that makes you a more compelling business partner than your neighbor. Here are 4 ideas that have proven popular in communities of all shapes and sizes.

Support Youth Sports

Sponsoring a youth sports team is one of the most common ways that businesses contribute to the local community, and with the growing class gap in sports participation, it’s a worthy one. By funding these sports teams, businesses keep registration costs down and make it possible for more kids to play on a local team. And since most team sponsors post signs at the local field or have their name on uniforms, it serves as free publicity for your business.

Align Your Cause

One of the most powerful ways to connect your business and community in a meaningful way is by choosing a charitable cause that aligns with your business goals or values. For example, in past years Craig, Kelley & Faultless LLC donated to a local car seat safety program. Since their firm deals heavily with motor vehicle-related offenses, this is a logical extension of their work oriented towards harm prevention.

In a similar vein, Thrive Market, an online specialty grocery donates membership and grocery funds to low-income shoppers. Since low-income families are more likely to live in food deserts and suffer from diet-related health issues, these donations are a concrete remedy to a society-wide problem.

Do Service Work

Some businesses find that they feel better connected to the community when they perform physical labor, rather than giving money, and this is also a great way to stand out and make a difference. You might hold a community clean-up day at a local park, “adopt” a stretch of highway, or even spend a few days working with Habitat for Humanity. What matters most is that there are ways for everyone to participate.

Hire With Meaning

Ultimately, community engagement is a big-picture concept, one better defined by the idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR might mean choosing sustainable supply lines or donating money. Another form of CSR is hiring from vulnerable or under-employed groups in the community.

Starbucks has been one of the largest models of CSR-related hiring, with their initiatives focused on hiring refugees, veterans and military spouses, and supporting college educations for team members, but they’re hardly the only ones doing this. Freedom Distilling, a small whiskey distillery in Minnesota, has a similar program, as does Sword & Plough, a fashion company that uses military surplus in their products. Emphasizing hiring for community members with disabilities, those who have served jail time, or supporting young people transitioning out of foster care are other potential hiring focuses that could change lives in your community.

Advertising is great and customer service matters, but when you run a business in a small community your local engagement is often the make or break factor in competitive success. But of course, it’s not all about professional achievement – giving back is rewarding in its own right. Everyone wins when companies give.