How to give as an SME

bina brown

Small and medium businesses are often the unrecognised heroes of charity, frequently giving goods and services as a way of building community rather than kudos.

Certificates of appreciation from organisations such as the RSPCA, Cancer Council and Make a Wish are commonplace on the walls of local takeaways, chemists and supermarkets as a sign of their commitment to fund-raising.

Local schools and community projects such as playgrounds and skate parks are other great beneficiaries of much-needed support from local businesses – be it monetary or in kind.

Gina Anderson, Centre for Social Impact philanthropy fellow and former chief executive of Philanthropy Australia, says the big contribution made by small and medium enterprises to community organisations and charities often goes unheralded.

“They are the unsung heroes.”

Their own good

Unlike big corporations that use their philanthropic work as a way to engage staff and for the “feel good” factor, SMEs understand the importance of social inclusion and do it for their own good as well as the good of others, Anderson says.

“Small business generally gives to local communities to underpin the local fabric. It is about being included and it is a very important part of social capital,” she says.

The owner of the Farmers Daughter cafe in Canberra, Nicole Damiani, chooses her charities with the local community in mind. As well as being a regular donor of gourmet food to the Communities@Work-managed Yellow Van food rescue service in the ACT, Farmers Daughter takes part in the annual CafeSmart fund-raiser, where $1 from each coffee sold on a predetermined day each year goes to homeless services.

“With small business, there are a lot of handouts and we needed to pick something that worked for us,” Damiani says.

Food for the homeless

Unsold gourmet lunches and pastries are carefully packaged up at the end of each day ready for collection by The Yellow Van, which distributes to charities and refuges supporting vulnerable people in the Canberra region.

The whole process of giving to The Yellow Van (known as OzHarvest in Queensland, NSW and Victoria) is a win-win for everyone, Damiani says.

“It is completely benign to our business. They collect food that would otherwise go in the bin or I would have to pay to have removed. It is good for the people who work here and my own children to see that we help people in need,” she adds.

Damiani says giving to The Yellow Van had become so important to her staff that they often choose to put aside leftover gourmet rolls than eat them themselves.

The director of Yellow Van food rescue, David Burnet, says that without small business the project – which helps at least 3000 people a week in the ACT and surrounding areas – would not have survived.

“Since the word go in 2008, small business having the faith in us and seeing the sense in not throwing stuff out [means] we have been able to build a substantial network of donors, including the majors like Aldi and Costco,” he says. “Our list of small donors such as Muffin Break and Farmers Daughter give others the confidence to donate.”

The community corporate intermediary at the Western Sydney Community Forum, Chris Roffey, says small business plays a big role, particularly supporting “grassroots” or voluntary organisations.

Supporting local communities

According to workers in small non-profit organisations – those with a turnover of less than $1 million and locally based – in most cases the only business sector assistance they receive comes from within their geographical area, Roffey says.

Businesses such as real estate agents, the local bakery or coffee shop often give small donations, goods and other forms of in-kind support to local organisations which do not have the much-coveted deductible gift recipient (DGR) status or which cannot provide significant returns on investment through marketing and other promotional benefits, he says.

Donations of $2 or more made to registered DGRs are tax deductible to individuals and businesses.

Roffey says small businesses tend to give because they are “part of the community” rather than doing it “for the community”, as is the case with large organisations.

“Some local businesses also give to more creative projects that would experience difficulty gaining funding from traditional sources. In contrast, larger corporations are increasingly emphasising their community engagement credentials by strategically aligning themselves with specific groups or social causes. While such giving is beneficial to many worthy projects, local groups tend to miss out,” he adds.

He points to local organisations such as neighbourhood centres, family support groups and migrant resource centres as key recipients. “They play a fundamental role in maintaining a healthy and socially just civil society,” Roffey says.

“The support they receive from local businesses is critical in maintaining their ability to provide innovative, responsive and contextually relevant community development activities in some of the most marginalised Australian communities.”

The Western Sydney Community Forum published a handbook earlier this year called Developing a Common Language between Corporations and Small Community Organisations  in order to help small community-based organisations forge closer relationships with companies and corporate foundations.

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