Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Small Business Tips: Seven Ways To Give To Local Schools and Education

Small businesses that would like to help out schools, school children,and education in their communities, might think that they can't match the large scale efforts of big corporations, written about here earlier, such as Staples that has collected thousands of backpacks for needy school children, or Target that has donated large amounts to school libraries.

What realistically can a small business do that could even make a difference to the local schools that have lost revenue with the current budget cuts, and the students that need to acquire a better education in order to be able to get better jobs?

Small businesses may not have as many resources in time and money that large businesses do, but they do have the opportunity to have more immediate and direct impact. By being closer to the local issues and problems a small business can choose where and how best they can give to education, teachers, students, and schools.

Small businesses can take advantage of sponsorships by paying to have their name and logo on everything from athletic shirts,to plaques on doors, and even buildings such as libraries and gyms, as well as by sponsoring a  variety of programs, events and fundraisers. In a story from USA Today, way back in 2006, in Newburyport, MA, a high school offered businesses the sponsorship rights to the Principal's office for $10,000, an auditorium for $100,000, and  even the English classrooms  for $5,000 each.
There are numerous  fundraisers, special programs, and events where even small amounts of funding can be  helpful. While schools may be wary of this kind of relationship, the benefit to both businesses and schools is clear.
"If it's something that's going to allow us to improve the school system or the city, I don't think it's a bad thing," says Bill Greinke, owner of The Sign Shop of Sheboygan.
2.Donate to a scholarship program
Colleges have become unaffordable for underserved populations and scholarship programs that help send these students to college are critical to helping offset the education gap. Many local communities have scholarship programs through organizations like a local  Rotary Club a Chamber of Commerce, or a Community Foundation. Many community colleges have set up their own scholarship programs, raising money from caring local businesses.Such schools as Hartnell Community College in Salinas, CA receives donations from dozens of local businesses every year towards the Hartnell College Foundation.

Individual small donations  may not seem like a lot, but collectively they add up to helping make a college degree a reality for someone that might not be able to get one otherwise.

3.Start you own collection drive
In a former post, we wrote about Rick Hart of Hayward, CA,. Rick was working for a paper company at the time and so when his son's fourth grade teacher put out a request for donations of paper, Rick brought in a truckload. The teacher burst into tears when she saw the stacks of paper. Rick had not realized up until then  how desperate the need for supplies was in the local public schools.
By engaging clients and customers a business can help support local schools and school children that cannot afford to buy some necessities such as stationary, pencils and tissue paper. Teachers often have to dip into their own pockets to buy these items for the classroom or send requests to parents to send some in with their kids. After learning what school supplies are needed; a business can set up a collection bin outside the front door or inside the business. By advertising or through a press release in the local paper, the drive can bring in  a significant amount of supplies that can offset the deficit the schools are experiencing 

The organization, Create the Good has developed a great toolkit that has helpful tips for setting up a collection drive. 

5. Volunteer your skills-tutor or mentor
Skills based volunteering in the form of helping schools with math programs, computer classes, and even technical training is a meaningful way for a small business to become involved.  Small business owners can help students on career days with their resumes and interviewing skills. Contractors all across America are using their skills to help refurbish and build schools as well as school playgrounds through organizations like Kaboom.

Tutoring or mentoring is a unique form of volunteering that has special rewards. Local high schools and community colleges cannot afford to give students the extra academic assistance that many of them need to catch up. Often students need mentoring assistance maneuvering through the maze of the financial aid applications, where it  practically takes someone having the skills of a CPA to manage. Businesses can start their own tutoring and mentoring program in their communities. The organizatin Tutor Mentor Connection has a guide for starting  such a program in a local community.

6. Donate used equipment or extra inventory
One small consulting firm, after remodeling, was looking to donate their used, in good condition, office furniture such as desks, chairs and file cabinets. After a little bit of research, they found within a few miles, a public elementary school  that had so little funding the principal did not even have a desk. The school wholeheartedly welcomed every piece of furniture they received and the business received a tax break for their donation.
Then there is the organization, which we featured earlier, NAEIR, which has collected more than $1.6 billion of inventory from companies such as Microsoft and Reebok and donated it to churches, schools and non-profits across the country.
Old computers can be donated through an organizations such as Computers With Causes .They will repair, refurbish, and properly prepare computers and give them to an educational program.

7. Collaborate with other small businesses to help schools
After Rick Hart heeded the urgent need to help local schools, he came up with a collaborative cause marketing program where local businesses give back a portion of sales to the schools. Another example of collaboration is in Louisiana, where businesses have created a coalition, Businesses for Improving Louisiana’s Development, that address the needs for improving standards in higher education in the state.

A small business can collaborate with other small businesses in the community in many ways:  by hosting joint fund raising events; by creating a scholarship program; by forming a giving circle, and by creating coalitions like the one in Louisiana that can affect educational policy
These types of collaborative efforts can often have far more impact than any one individual business can achieve.

The USA Today's story came out fully four years ago when communities were alerted to the huge deficits in funding back then. The situation has become much more serious.  By carefully giving through the proper channels, businesses can help the the funding gap that is occurring all across communities in this country and help support teachers and the students. After all, businesses giving to schools is not only about funding them, but about businesses feeling a sense of ownership in the community.


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Myles Parker said...

Great blog! Your innovative ideas of small business will helpful to all Louisiana business.