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3 Things Small Businesses Can Learn from Charities


My name is Janet Alikpala, and I want to share how my crazy (yet joyful) career in so many different industries has helped me find commonality in seemingly divergent fields of work.

I’ve been involved in several projects that have created a positive impact for my hometown of Chicago and across the country in Los Angeles, Kauai, and Austin.

I have been a marketing coordinator, event director, project manager, assistant fundraising director, public affairs director, business development executive, even a consultant for an action sports agency!

What has kept me grounded is my love for helping people, particularly when it comes to cultivating relationships and funding for programs that help communities. While each experience in my career was uniquely different than the next, they all had the goal of benefiting communities and the people that need these programs.

Simultaneously, I’ve spent a lot of time — nearly 15 years — volunteering for various non-profit organizations and charity groups. As someone who has built careers in both the non-profit and corporate sectors while concurrently giving back to my community, I began to recognize the ways in which small businesses can learn valuable lessons from charitable organizations.

1. Focus on the positive.

When we think about business, we know that while some people are there because they want the business to succeed, the opposite can also, unfortunately, be true: some people could care less about the welfare of the company; they just want to collect a paycheck.

For any charitable or non-profit organization, however, chances are that if there are volunteers donating their time to a cause, they feel truly passionate about it. Money isn’t really a factor in their decision to volunteer.

Yet, imagine what we could do in the for-profit sector if we actively took a role in determining what our mission is, who we would reach out to in order to achieve that mission, and how to best implement the strategy that allows us to impact the greater good.

When leadership is motivated and dedicated about their mission, it changes the day-to-day mindset of employees as well. And in result, communities are impacted positively.

2. Give back for the right reasons.

Research shows that 90% of Americans are more likely to be a returning customer at businesses that give back to or try to make a difference in their communities in some way.

And yet, the public sometimes calls philanthropic efforts by corporations into question, wary of their motivation.

Is the company starting this campaign because they truly care? Or are they doing it because they know that the support will result in a large profit?

Don’t promote something just because it makes your company look good. Essentially, put your money where your heart is. Consumers will respond in kind.

3. Turn opportunities into mutually beneficial relationships.

In business, there is something that’s often overlooked, and it’s this:

it’s extremely vital to see and understand mutually beneficial relationships.

These relationships can help local business while simultaneously giving back to the community. For example, I’ve coordinated efforts with the Chicago Police Department, Cook County Sheriffs, and Illinois State Police to bowl together for a weekend and raised funds to open up skate parks for Chicago.

These campaigns have created the awareness and necessary funding needed to keep important community programs going year after year. That is giving back in the best way.

When you focus only on your own profit, you are neglecting possible opportunities for growth and community endeavors.

Small businesses would do well to take a page out of the charity playbook.

You won’t find more dedicated people who truly believe in the cause they are working for — their hearts are in it and they want to see a positive impact on the community that they’re working tirelessly to benefit.

And, by building genuine partnerships, everyone thrives.

It’s a cycle of good that continues to give!