When I was young, my parents taught me that helping other people is a part of life—if you’re fortunate enough to have, you should give to people who don’t. That’s why I believe that as business owners, it’s our responsibility to give back to our communities. But, managing corporate giving can be a full-time job, and that may mean that it’s time to create a separate entity to facilitate it.
My husband and I have been running our business together for 16 years. As the company grew, so did our passion to give back to our community. At a holiday event in 2012, the Executive Director of one of our non-profit partners made the comment that we were “giving money all over the place, unorganized and not as effectively as we could be.” That observation hit home and we realized that charitable giving had become such an integral part of our business that we needed a full-time employee to oversee and organize our giving initiatives. We hired the very lady who was bold enough to give us the critique we needed—our Vice President of Corporate Citizenship Shantrelle Johnson. At her recommendation, we set up our own 501(c)(3) organization to lead our community outreach efforts.
With Shantrelle at the helm, our foundation operates independently with its own budget, finances, employees and procedures for donation requests. By establishing a nonprofit, we have become more strategic in our giving, developed stronger relationships in the community, controlled how we disburse funds and set up a fund to benefit employees in need.
If you’re ready to start a non-profit for your business but don’t know where to start, here are a few tips:
1.) Find your person.
This may be a different hiring procedure than usual, so take time to find the right person. Most importantly, he or she should have a passion for serving the community and a sharp business mind. The ins and outs of non-profit management can be learned by anyone with a heart for it and willingness to read, read, read.
Keep in mind that once you’ve established your giving organization, the same person will likely oversee it. Ensure that you find a star player who’s willing to wear many hats not only in community relations but also in strategic and fiscal planning, and management.
2.) Determine your mission.
There are so many deserving causes that it becomes impossible to help all of them. If you cast your net too wide, it becomes hard to effect real change. Instead, concentrate your efforts on two or three areas of focus within your community to make a real impact.
For some people, their mission is clear. A nurse by training, I knew that I wanted wellness to be one of our company’s areas of focus. If you’re not sure of your giving purpose, start by determining if your company’s overall mission and core values align with any community needs. You can also research local causes, and the nonprofits already established to serve them, to identify gaps in support. You just might find your calling in the process.
3.) Use your resources.
There is a lot of paperwork required to set up a legal and operational 501(c)(3)—such is life. Luckily, there are a multitude of resources in place to help individuals and companies start and manage their own nonprofit organization.
We worked closely with Nashville’s Center for Nonprofit Management to ensure that all the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed. Similarly, The National Council of Nonprofits offers services in almost all 50 states. The resources are here for the taking—use them, and then pay it forward.