A 2010 Cone Cause Evolution study showed that 80 percent of consumers said they would switch from one brand to another if the other brand were associated with a good cause. 87 percent of global consumers agree that businesses need to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on business interests, according to a 2012 Edelman good-purpose Study, and 93 percent of consumers want to know what companies are doing to make the world a better place, according to a 2011 Cone study.
Study after study demonstrates that corporate social responsibility may be the secret sauce to gaining a competitive edge in business. The mounting evidence is driving many businesses to rethink how they measure return on investment, employee morale and, yes, even pure profit. At the core of this trend is small business — that’s right, small business!
Last year, the online small business network Alignable.com published a survey of thousands of small businesses nationwide with regards to charitable giving. It found that of the small businesses that gave to charity, 90 percent of their donations were to support local causes. The “local business down the street” gave more than 10 percent of profits in 2015, compared to the top 1 percent of businesses, whose collective giving comprised only 2.8 percent of their discretionary income.
It’s no secret that small business is a major driver of a community’s economic health. After the recession, it was small businesses that kept many communities afloat. And, the fact that nearly two-thirds of job growth today comes from the expansion of small business means those in the charitable giving industry need to rethink the role of small business in philanthropic giving.
That’s what we at United Way of North Central Florida did two years ago when we launched the world’s first and only Small Business Partnership program. Today, with more than 150 donors, we have discovered a vibrant, dedicated group of leadership givers who have helped grow our Community Investment Fund by 15 percent in just under two years. These donors give an annual leadership gift (minimum of $1,200), and all of their donated funds are reinvested into local programs through a competitive grant process. The selected programs focus on improving the education, health and financial stability of people living in Alachua, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy and Union Counties. These entrepreneurs collectively support more than 30 programs in the region that are able to leverage those dollars with a 3:1 return through state and federal match dollars. That means for every $1 the programs receive from United Way, they bring in an additional $3 to provide everything from backpacks to children and rent assistance for the working poor to a safe haven for families surviving domestic violence and opportunities for lower-income, at-risk youth.
We believe small business is actually a “big deal” and should be at the core of the United Way brand as a leading organization that convenes around the most important societal issues and helps to find, fund and develop outcomes that improve the lives of people living in our communities.
We know the decision to invest is an important one. Where to invest, however, may be even more important. No other sector understands that challenge better than small businesses. Small business owners come from a very special breed, indeed. They have built their businesses on hope, hard work, and perseverance, and they care about their neighbors.
A quote made famous by Margaret Mead rightly sums up why small business packs the biggest punch in giving back: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Find the full list of Small Business Partners on the United Way’s website at www.unitedwayncfl.org/smallbusinesspartners.
DEBORAH BOWIE, CCE, IOM, is the president and chief executive officer of the United Way of North Central Florida. Deborah led the leadership, business development and membership division of the Gainesville (FL) Area Chamber of Commerce before taking the helm of the United Way. A former broadcast television journalist, Deborah completed 96 hours in nonprofit management from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, earning her certificate in nonprofit organization management and a certificate in executive studies at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is a proud mother of four, including a set of triplets.