Lindsey Tyner is the former Chair of the Austin Young Chamber of Commerce (AYC). Currently she is owner of Alt Creative and the inaugural chair of the Austin Young Chamber of Commerce Foundation (AYCF). She has made corporate giving a staple of her business and below shares her thoughts and how she makes a difference in our community.
For many people, owning a business and working for yourself is “the dream”. More and more people are opting to join the “gig economy” and/or start their own small business. As the owner of a boutique web design company, Alt Creative, I’ve always felt empowered by making my own rules, doing my own thing, and working in an industry that supports other business owners like me. Having done so for more than a decade now, I can tell you from experience that working for yourself is truly a dream come true if you put in the work. Sometimes, though, all that hard work can give you tunnel vision and cause you to focus all of your attention on making that next dollar. I spent my first few years, head down, nose-to-the-grindstone, doing what I thought business owners were supposed to do – work all the time!
It wasn’t until a few years in that I managed to pick my head up and look around. I realized that I was bored, burned out, and “stuck”. I found myself wondering if what I do everyday makes any difference at all. Now, I could write a whole blog post on how I got “unstuck” and I won’t bore you with it in this one, but that feeling pushed me to the point where I purposely started making big changes in my business. One of those changes was to start a Giving Program.
About 5 years ago, I embarked on a journey to give back and operate Alt Creative in a socially responsible manner. You may have heard this concept described as “business philanthropy”, “cause marketing”, “social responsibility”, or “for-benefit business”. There are seriously a dozen other names for it, but it basically all means the same thing: the company is actively trying to make a difference in our community and the world by giving to charitable causes. Don’t get me wrong – making a profit is still our number one goal. That said, our business model of giving back is helping us support community non-profits while making even more profit that we did before. It’s had a huge impact on our employees, our clients, and the business itself.
I personally feel empowered by this business model. At Alt Creative, we give 10% of every major web project to charitable causes and in the past 5 years we have given more than $23,000 to charity and hundreds of hours to pro-bono and volunteer projects. I’m proud to list the Austin Young Chamber Foundation as one of our Giving Program beneficiaries. Having been involved with the AYC for several years now, I’ve seen first hand the impact this organization makes. The AYC inspires leadership and is a catalyst for personal and professional development. I am grateful that Austin has such a wonderful resource encouraging and grooming our next generation of leaders.
Giving back to organizations like AYC and other has made a positive impact on me, my company, the organizations that we give to, and the community at large. Here are a few reasons why I think other small businesses should consider doing something similar…
Why Give Back?
1) The warm and fuzzies: The most obvious answer to the question of giving back is that it feels good to do it. Sure, sometimes writing the check or spending the time volunteering is hard, but the feeling of reward is always there. For most people, that feeling makes them happy and happy business owners tend to lead successful companies.
2) Make a difference:Companies are in the business to make money and the business community has the power to use some of that profit to do good in the world. Your work the takes on a deeper meaning. Bottom line: you give, good things happen.
3) Indirect Profit: By giving you are improving the quality of life in communities where you do business. The stronger your community, the more revenue your business will see. It’s the same reason that large corporations add a budget line for sponsorships and charitable donations. They know that when people are doing better and feeling better, they’re more open to make purchases.
4) Tax Deductions: Whether you are a sole proprietor, LLC, or corporation, making charitable contributions decreases your tax liability. While I am certainly not a tax expert, I’ve yet to talk to a philanthropic small business who does not receive a 100% tax deduction on charitable contributions.
5) Differentiate your business: According to Edelman’s GoodPurpose study, 80% of consumers agree that business must play a role in addressing societal issues and 90% of U.S. consumers say they would switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality, according to Ebiquity’s 2015 Global CSR Study. This means that consumers pay attention to those companies who are working to better society and are buying their products and services. And it makes sense… Imagine you have a potential client who is in the market for your services but you are competing for them with two other companies. If you are marketing yourself and your values as being philanthropic or socially responsible, it could be the thing that sets you apart. In that Edelman study, it was concluded that in many instances, when quality and price are equal, the most important factor influencing brand choice is Purpose. This outpaces design and innovation, and brand loyalty.
6) Better clients and better employees: Much like consumers, employees are paying attention to companies who give back as well. In a survey by the nonprofit Net Impact, 53% of workers said that “a job where I can make an impact” was important to their happiness, and 72% of students about to enter the workforce agreed. Most would even take a pay cut to achieve that goal. When you give your company a purpose to give back or act responsibly, you set an additional incentive for employees. This incentive helps recruit and retain high-quality employees because now they are working for something bigger than a paycheck.
It also affects the type of clients that are attracted to your company. These clients tend to be loyal and are willing to spend more money if they feel that it is going back to a good cause.
7) Positive publicity and reputation: Reputation is everything in business. It affects everything from sales to human resources. Having a purpose and commitment to doing good can create a good reputation for you or help you recover from a bad one. Also, just as a philanthropic or socially responsible stance can help differentiate your business to clients, it can also do so in the media. As you grow and attract publicity, this one factor can increase your visibility.
The Bottom Line:
There are many reasons to incorporate giving into your small business. If the concept resonates with you, I would recommend that you NOT wait. Starting to give back when your company is small and working it into the fabric of your company values can help with the long term growth of your organization and your community. The philanthropic side of my business has given me and my team greater purpose and motivation for success. We’ve worked with some fabulous clients and non-profits since we began this journey.
I hope to inspire other small businesses to take this step with me so we can all make a greater difference in our communities. If you are a business owner and an AYC supporter, I would encourage you to look into the Austin Young Chamber Foundation as a potential to support with your own Giving Program. It can help the AYC expand it benefits and create engaged leaders in Austin for decades to come.