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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

When I said that giving money away is hard, I meant that it’s hard to choose how best to invest your dollars.  Which nonprofit is the best one to support?  How do you pick one over the other?  Is cancer more important than homelessness, child abuse a higher priority than infant mortality? 

These questions are impossible to answer and vary dramatically person by person.  But as a business, you have some pre-determined factors in place that can help you decide on an approach.  This post is designed to step you through that process.

How To: Determining your giving focus

Work through the list below, carefully considering each category before making any decisions about what you might support.  Give yourself time to think through the options.  Although you can and should update your focus over time – as the business evolves and changes – deciding your giving focus is not something you do every year.  You will likely live with the focus for many years, so you want to make sure it fits.

  • Products and Services – What products or services do you offer?  Is there a logical connection between what you sell and a specific kind of nonprofit in the community?  For example, a landscaping company and a nonprofit that teaches city kids gardening; a  contractor or a hardware store and housing for the homeless; an eye surgery center and an association for the blind… Looking at the obvious connection between your products or services and community need is a logical first step.  But what if what you do as a business doesn’t align so nicely with a type of nonprofit?  For example, what if you do web design?  Although there could be nonprofits that teach kids this skill, you could also take the approach of saying “we’re going to give to nonprofits that have marketing needs like those we fulfill as a business.”  This is a less conventional but extremely important way to think about giving because chances are, there aren’t as many donors out there looking to support this kind of need – funding for web development so the nonprofit can tell its story.  Be creative.  There is no one answer.
  • Brand – Similar to the products and services suggestion above, think about what your brand stands for and whether that leads you to any logical intersections with nonprofits.  This approach is admittedly a bit fuzzier, not so black and white.  If your company’s brand stands for innovation or creativity, then perhaps your giving programs are designed to support those same qualities.
  • Location – Where is your company located within your community?  Are you in an office park, an industrial zone, the rural outskirts, the middle of the city, or perhaps a place where people both live and work?  Are there specific needs in the neighborhood, problems that you want to help fix?  Are there residents close by with specific needs?  Answering these questions will help you come up with options for how to give – perhaps to a local community center, a program for people who speak English as a second language, to help preserve woodlands or maybe to encourage environmentally friendly transportation options.  Again, there is no right answer.  These are just clues to help you decide.
  • History – Businesses grow up in communities, rarely on their own.  They have connections to people, places and causes that develop naturally.  Just because some of the early donations you made might not have been strategic, that doesn’t mean they weren’t good and important to keep.  Looking at what you have already done, ask if there are certain nonprofits that feel central to who you are as a company.  Is there a group that’s always been there, that you feel connected to, that has – in some way – grown up with you.  This is the outlier category in many ways because the organization might not fit into any of the other categories you’re considering (product, location, etc.)  You might just feel a passion for them, and if that commitment is strong enough, then it’s important to think about how to maintain it.

Tune in latnext time for more advice on choosing a cause for your business, looking at the role the CEO, your employees and what you WON’T give to play in the decision.  And if you know small-to-mid-sized businesses that have done a great job selecting a giving approach that’s right for them, please do share at BusinessDoingGood@blackbaud.com.

Rachel Hutchisson (@RachelHutchssn) is VP, Corporate Citizenship & Philanthropy at Blackbaud, Inc., a 2,700-person technology company that works exclusively with nonprofit organizations. She built the company’s “give back” function from the ground up, relying on expertise she gained in over two decades of working at the intersection of the business world and the nonprofit sector. Rachel is a member of the #GivingTuesday core advisory team, leads her company’s involvement in the Billion+Change pro-bono initiative, and serves on the boards of the Association of Fundraising Professionals International, The Giving Institute, and the Coastal Community Foundation. She is also a member of the core team that launched TEDxCharleston in 2013. She is a graduate of Dickinson College and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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