Let’s face it, deciding how your business should give can be hard.  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 to leverage your resources for good.  This post is designed to step you through that process.

How To Determine 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.

Rachel Hutchisson is the vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, headquartered in Charleston, SC.  She is responsible for the company’s global corporate citizenship efforts, a role that allows her to leverage her 20+ years of experience of working with nonprofit partners.  She is a member of the board of directors for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International, the Giving Institute (producers of Giving USA), and the Coastal Community Foundation.  She is also a Past President of the AFP SC Lowcountry chapter. Rachel is a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she is a Renaissance Weekend participant and was the recipient of the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Influential Women in Business Rising Star Award.  Rachel is an avid soccer fan and spends far too much time driving to remote parts of the state to watch her children play.  Connect with Rachel on Twitter at @RachelHutchssn or on LinkedIn.

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