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Volunteerism—Before you say NO, consider this:

Volunteerism is Good for Your Career,
 Good for Business, 
and 
Good for the Community

Have you noticed your mailbox at home and at the office swelling with dollar-seeking pleas from non-profit organizations? Are organizations knocking at your door, asking you to volunteer your time? 

More and more, fund-raisers and volunteer-dependent organizations are targeting career women, entrepreneurs, and small business owners, as they compete for your time and money. 

Volunteering for a cause in which you believe provides the important satisfaction of giving something back to society, helping your community, and helping disadvantaged citizens. But if that doesn’t warm your heart, consider this—volunteerism is also good for business, and good for your career! Businesses large and small, as well as individuals and entrepreneurs, are all learning the value of being good citizens, or “Corporate Citizenship.” While many small businesses owners and self-employed individuals cannot afford large, or even moderate, dollar donations—volunteerism provides a great opportunity to increase your professional visibility and be a good citizen at the same time, without the need for deep pockets. Moreover, just like the corporate giants, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and career women should take note that it does not diminish your good deeds by sending out press releases and getting more than just a little publicity about your efforts.        

Before you toss the literature and letters in the wastebasket, take a closer look! Simply put, in order to gain community or professional visibility, or to sell a product or service, people have to know who you are, and they have to feel good about you. AND you have to feel good about yourself. Volunteering for a cause you believe in provides both professional and public exposure, as well as the personal and important satisfaction of giving something back to society. One does not preclude the other—if you choose your charities wisely. Carefully consider where you will have the most impact helping others, and gain the most exposure.  Building a career or a new business does take time and energy, and it is easy to feel there is little left to donate. This is a mistake! And for two reasons: (1) there is nothing so satisfying as helping others in need and really being part of the community, and (2) it will help you and your company! There is nothing wrong with doing good deeds and getting the public and professional recognition that go with it.  

Women business owners certainly have caught on. Volunteerism has been integrated into their lives and businesses. According to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, “nearly six million women business owners volunteer, making significant contributions to the fabric of their communities.”  Nearly eight in ten women business owners spend time volunteering and encourage a majority of their employees to do so as well. Half volunteer for more than one charity.  Overall, nearly two-thirds or 65 percent of women business owners spend time helping a community-related charity; other charities include education-related (35 percent), religious (28 percent), health or disease-related (21 percent) and the arts (19 percent). There are lots of opportunities! 

Now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts. Keep in mind that volunteerism, if not done carefully, can be an unfocused activity that is nothing more than recreational at best. But carefully thought-out, it can be a powerful professional opportunity as well as a worthwhile community service. Below are guidelines for deciding which national or local organization to join, or which charity will be the recipient of your time and money.

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Jot down how much time and money you are willing to spend on the organization and its activities.

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Choose a committee that fits within that budget.

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Look for the activities that will get recognition.

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Don’t bite off more than you can chew. This is a responsibility and a commitment that you must fulfill.

Corporate “giving” has additional considerations. If you are considering corporate, as compared to individual sponsorship of a charity or organization, take your thinking a bit further.

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Does your company’s philosophy mesh with 
the organization’s mission?

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Is the charity a group that is well-respected in the community?

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Does it have a IRS tax-exempt status?

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Is the group audited by a public accounting firm?

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members and vendors or other companies? 

"Does the group have active directors, or are they in name only?

Be sure to get an annual report, financial statement, budget, and copy of IRS not-for-profit filings.

 If all this sounds very calculating, IT IS! After all, we are talking about your time and dollars—as well as making a difference in people’s lives. Just because you are providing a service to a worthwhile cause by serving on an organization’s board or committee, helping the disadvantaged directly, or providing dollars or an in-kind service, doesn’t mean you should not use the experience to further your business or career. 

Will people think you’re bragging? Will you look foolish waving your own flag? They might. But with careful planning, a public or professional image can be created without losing credibility and self-respect. Think about the image you want to create, explore your own comfort level with public exposure, and assess the communications   potential of your efforts. This is part of “positioning,” and it is the basis for all good marketing efforts—whether you are marketing yourself or your company.

      Not only will you get publicity and recognition, but you will be giving publicity to the charity as well. This is a part of building your professional image, and it is an important part of doing business in your community.

Copyright © 1999 Marion Gold & Company Marketing Communications

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