It's the holidays, that magical time of year that inspires many of us to make a positive difference in other people's lives. But for small IT business owners, both time and money are often in short supply. So if you want to help your community but have to contend with budget or time constraints, these suggestions are for you.
1. Donate Your Expertise
Nonprofits are notoriously underfunded, and many don't have the budget to hire a fulltime IT person. As a result, most organizations would probably welcome any kind of pro bono help.
"I'll volunteer to do business plans and marketing-type duties for nonprofits, and every year I volunteer for Seattle GiveCamp," says
Maria Marsala (@mariamarsala), a
financial advisor business consultant and the founder of
Elevating Your Business.
"It's a weekend-long, 24/7 event where I'm one of the geeks helping a nonprofit create or fix a WordPress website with plugins."
Maria Perrin (@mariaperrin),
Gide Public Affairs
(@gidellc), says that she and her partners donate their time to tech accelerators and help startups develop marketing strategies.
"I meet with startup companies monthly and work on a variety of projects with them," Perrin says. "Some of the projects I have worked on include creating a company's marketing plan and developing a product launch strategy."
If you aren't sure which organization to reach out to, Volunteer Match can connect you with deserving nonprofits. You can choose a cause, like animals or education, and then search for a match in your area. There are even virtual opportunities you can work on from anywhere.
2. Dole Out Some Cash
If you're already logging long hours and can't make the time commitment to a charity right now, you can pledge to donate a certain percentage of your professional fees to a charity. It could be a one-time gift or something you do on a monthly basis. Pick a charity you want to support, or give clients the opportunity to choose from a few options. Don't feel bad if it's only for a few bucks. Every little bit helps!
If you've never donated to a particular organization before, you might want to do some sleuthing before you break out your checkbook. There are several websites that can help confirm if a charity is legit, including…
Bonus: Cash donations are tax deductible, so make sure to get a receipt.
3. Join a Board
If you want to roll up your sleeves and take an active role in a nonprofit organization, consider volunteering to serve on a board.
"When I look around at all the boards I've been involved with over the past five years, I am typically the youngest (39) and the most technology proficient," says
Aaron Norris (@aaronnorris), MBA, APR, CSPG, and
vice president of
The Norris Group
(@thenorrisgroup). "The nonprofit space is in desperate need of this expertise. Nonprofits are so mired in survival and serving their mission, very rarely do they have the time to explore technology, especially software that solves commonplace issues."
Norris makes a good point. Board members are often older, so most nonprofits might be thrilled to have a new recruit who's also tech savvy.
4. Make Your Voice Heard
If donations of either time or money are just more than your IT business can handle at the moment, try something that's free and not time-consuming, like signing petitions to support causes that are important to you. Change.org is a good place to start. Much like Volunteer Match, you can search by the type of cause you'd like to support, like immigrant rights or the environment. You can even start your own petition.
5. Match Nonprofits with Donated Tech Equipment
Consider playing matchmaker between charities and donated, gently-used IT equipment.
"Ask clients and vendors to donate old computers, parts, etc.," says
Tami Belt (@1bluecube),
Blue Cube Marketing Solutions.
"Match a charity’s wish list items to your inventory."
To drum up donations, you could designate your office as a drop-off zone. You could even offer a small discount to clients who donate an item. Once you have some tech equipment on hand, reach out to charities to see if you can find new homes for the donated goods.
This suggestion is a little more ambitious in terms of the time investment, considering you'll need to reach out to both donors and recipients. But it shouldn't cost you a dime to implement.
6. Buy Local
Another easy way to give back? Buy from other small local businesses.
For example, instead of ordering a ream of paper from an online store, place your order with a local office supply company. Holding a meeting? Get your caffeine fix from a neighborhood java joint. That way, you're helping your community while making purchases you would have made anyway.
7. Round Up the Troops
If you have employees, volunteering as a group can be a good way to help the community and do some valuable team building. Nextiva, a communication systems startup for businesses, actively involves employees in its charity efforts.
"Nextiva has a very strong corporate giving program called Nextiva Cares," says
Amanda Dzuik (@adziuknextiva),
talent brand manager at
(@Nextiva). "Every month, the company participates in a social giving activity either locally or nationally."
For example, Nextiva employees have…
- Visited patients at hospitals with the company mascot XBert.
- Participated in fun runs.
- Taken part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Dzuik says it's important that employees feel encouraged to give back and know that they won't be punished for any time they miss from work while volunteering.
"Time is the biggest investment in these activities," says Dzuik. "The company has to make sure that responsibilities are covered when people are out and that people feel like they can volunteer and donate their time without feeling like they will be penalized for being out."
About the Contributors
Tami Belt launched Blue Cube Marketing Solutions in 2002 to transform the way companies approach community engagement and communication strategy. Tami places clients in the spotlight by equipping them with communication tools to build relationships, create conversations, and share stories. An award-winning public relations professional with an electric smile and undeniable compassion for people, Tami has built a network of relationships with colleagues that enjoy working with her as much as they respect her talent, work ethic, and integrity.
Amanda Dzuik is Nextiva's talent brand manager and runs the Nextiva Cares program. With more than four years in talent acquisition, her expertise is within talent strategy, employer branding, and community relations. As an emerging leader, Amanda is focused on corporate social responsibility as value creation. Over the last year, she has led the development of the Nextiva Cares program, which serves local nonprofits such as Phoenix Children’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s at Dignity Health, The Joy Bus, Horses Help, and the ALS Association.
Maria Marsala is a successful business owner, business strategist, life coach, and program creator. She spent 17 years working in the financial industry at firms like Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns. As a fixed income department executive, she developed numerous marketing processes that were used companywide. Maria also saved firms millions of dollars by making their operations and technology more efficient. Today, as owner of Elevating Your Business, Maria works with RIAs and other independent financial firms to achieve many of the same objectives through consultative-coaching, speaking, and writing.
Aaron Norris is vice president of The Norris Group, which specializes in California hard money lending, trust deed investments, real estate investments, and real estate investor resources. He's the creator and producer of The Norris Group's series "I Survived Real Estate," which has raised over $600,000 for charity since its inception in 2008. Aaron serves on several local nonprofit and professional association boards. He is a Certified Specialist in Planned Giving (CSPG) and is passionate about philanthropy and giving back in creative and meaningful ways.
Maria Perrin, principal at Gide Public Affairs, is a leading strategist with a track record of helping companies achieve high growth. Most recently, she was chief marketing officer for HMS Holdings and has held marketing roles with Bestfoods, Nissan, and Starbucks.