For many small businesses, the decision to partner with a charity may seem outlandish. After all, they’re focused on growing margins, attracting talent and building their business. When sales are precious and revenue growth is critical, it seems counterintuitive to partner with a charity. But on top of supporting something you and your customers believe in, many small businesses find that partnering with a charity expands marketing opportunities, helps the company better connect with customers and creates important networking opportunities.

From building brand awareness to targeting a new niche of customers, below are six ways partnering with a charity helps small businesses.

1. It builds brand awareness

Businesses that partner with a charity create a link between their business and the charity, and that link furthers awareness for both organizations. To get the most of this publicity, make note of your charitable donations on your website and ask your partner charity to recognize your support on their website as well. You can also mention your charitable donations on advertisements and other marketing materials to inform consumers and further connect your business to your chosen charity.

2. The charity can market for you

If you decide a portion of products or services your business sells will go to a particular charity, it’s likely that charity will help you market those products. Charities can amplify your own marketing campaigns by targeting their members, which can total in the thousands or even millions in revenue, with promotions for your products or services that will benefit the charity. This is an easy, cost effective way for small businesses to get their name out there and take advantage of a large organization’s existing infrastructure to boost their own marketing efforts.

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3. Target customers in your niche by choosing the right charity

It’s important to partner with the right charity. Most small businesses find it more valuable to partner with a charity whose members include their niche customers than simply choosing the largest charity in town. The Huffington Post reported that For Momentum’s 2015 Corporate Partner Survey said 92% of companies find that brand alignment with their charitable partner is more important than anything else. So instead of opting for size, think of how a charity aligns with your brand and you may find it easier to reach your target customers.

4. Unlock new networking opportunities

Charitable events and meetings offer numerous networking opportunities. Partnering with a charity gives small businesses access to new contacts and opens the door to meeting potential business partners and customers. Depending on your community and type of business, charitable networking could connect you to business partners that eventually account for a sizable chunk of your revenue.

5. It helps others

Of course, partnering with a charity helps others. Small businesses give back to their communities through their day-to-day business, but charities allow businesses to specifically target and help causes they care about. But don’t think this is all you’re charitable partnership will accomplish—most charities today understand the practical reasons businesses get involved with charities and will do everything they can to create a return on your investment.

How to partner with a charity

Experts told the Wall Street Journal that when it comes to actually partnering with a charity, it’s important to look locally and involve employees in the decision. A local charity is likely to have the biggest business impact because charitable donations will be most visible to consumers, and involving employees in the decision helps ensure the team is connected to the partnership.

Instead of just writing a check, it’s better to be creative and incorporate the partnership into the business. Fashion retailer Modavanti.com gives 2% of sales to one of three charities, and the company lets customers choose their preferred organization at checkout. Founder David Dietz told the Wall Street Journal the partnership helps customers shop their values and increases the rate of repeat purchases.

But the partnership doesn’t have to be about sales. One business in Colorado, Odell Brewing Co., invites customers to join employees to volunteer together at local charities, something CEO Wynne Odell said helps customers connect with the brand.

There are many creative ways to partner with charities, and the best thing for a small business to do is think about how the partnership can connect to the local community and benefit the business.

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Things to be careful of

Charities are important social organizations that benefit good causes, but businesses ultimately have an obligation to generate profit. That obligation is legal for public companies and no less pursued by private companies, so it’s critical to ensure charitable partnerships actually create a return on investment. One way to facilitate a positive return is gauging charitable contributions reasonably—don’t give 5% when 2% connects just as well with customers. And as always with business expenses, it’s important to track how sales respond after creating a charitable partnership. Don’t be afraid to make changes when necessary.

Transparency is critical when it comes to charitable partnerships. Be as clear as possible with customers as to how their purchases will benefit a charity, and do your best not to make commitments you cannot keep. Finally, it’s important to seek professional legal guidance when creating a charitable partnership to ensure your business understands and is following the law.

Partnering with a charity is admittedly a bold move for many small businesses and one that requires significant work to optimize. But when done properly, the partnership can pay dividends, drastically amplify brand awareness and unlock important networking opportunities — all while supporting a good cause.

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Erik Dolan-Del Vecchio

Erik Dolan-Del Vecchio

Erik Dolan-Del Vecchio creates content that informs, helps, and, with luck, entertains professionals across the marketplace. From covering happenings in the commercial real estate industry to unpacking small business finance, his writing explores critical topics in the world of business.

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