How to Choose a Cause to Support through your Business
If you’d like to support a charity or social cause through your business but you don’t know which cause to support, I’ve written this blog post for you.
I share how to pick the best cause to support and answer common questions including:
- Should the cause be in a similar field as your business?
- Is it best to pick a cause you one feel passionate about or one that’s most likely to appeal to your audience?
- Where can you find a list of causes to check out?
- Is it OK to support more than one cause?
If you want to donate money, raise funds or volunteer your time, I suggest you pick just one primary cause to support initially. By doing this you can build a closer relationship with them, make better use of your time and money, and it’s easier for those you meet to understand what’s important to you. What you stand for. This, in turn, will help you build stronger connections with those who resonate with similar values or causes. This article is therefore written to help you choose one main cause to support.
At the core of what I share is how to give well – to support causes that are effective in serving those they are aiming to help. There are plenty poorly run causes and I therefore suggest you do your due diligence so you can make informed decisions about the causes you support. As with many other aspects of your business, you can decide when to go with your heart versus doing more thorough checks. To select a primary cause to support follow this process:
- Define your desired outcomes
- Decide how you want to contribute
- Do your research
- Decide on the cause to support
This article is an extract from my book Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes in which I share the many ways to support causes through your business and how to maximise your impact. You can get a copy of this here.
Step 1: Get clear on your ‘why’ and your desired outcomes
This relates to both why you want to support social causes through your business plus more specific factors to consider in relation to the type of cause you’d like to support.
Why do you want to support a social cause through your business?
Most people who choose to raise funds for causes through their business do so either because they have a cause close to their hearts they want to support, they want to ‘give back’ or there is a particular social or environmental problem they want to help solve. Whatever your reason, it’s worth getting clear on exactly why you want to incorporate fundraising into your business because knowing this will help you decide the cause(s) and fundraising strategies most aligned to what’s important to you.
To get clarity on why you’re wanting to support a cause this ask yourself:
- Why do I want to support causes?
- What impact do I want to have through doing this?
- Why is this important to me?
When I first started raising funds for a cause through my business it was to help fund my humanitarian trips to Rwanda. I’d chosen raise funds through my business as I didn’t have time to take on any fundraising activites that would eat into my personal life – I was already struggling to maintain a good life/work balance.
More recently I’ve found aligning my business to the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals has really helped me get clarity on my top social impact priorities – poverty, education and social justice. You can find out more about these here.
What type of cause would you love to support?
You may have ideas for this already but if not, here are a few things to consider:
- Focus – the purpose of the cause and scope of its activities.
- Size – the size of the organisation can be measured in many ways including the number of people employed, number of people or creatures it helps, its geographic reach, the value of its charitable funds, etc.
- Locality – where the cause is based and operates.
- Resources–how the cause spends, invests and distributes its resources (including money).
- Legal entity – whether a registered charity, foundation or non-profit; a social enterprise or an unrecognised cause close to your heart.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail:
FOCUS: What is the best focus for a cause you support?
The most common question I am asked is whether they should support a cause with a similar scope and focus as their business, or to pick one that focuses on something completely different. The answer really does depend on ‘why’ you want to support a cause and the extent to which you’d like to be involved.
Supporting a cause with the same focus as your business can be a great way to offer your services to people who can’t afford to pay for them. And this can help to raise your visibility as an expert in your field. I know opticians in the UK who volunteer their services through charities in areas of the world where people struggle to get access to good eye care or can’t afford it.
However, some people find it hard to apply clear boundaries for distinguishing between what they charge for as against what they offer on a charitable basis when they pick a cause which has a focus similar to that of their business.
Another potential downside of supporting a cause with the same focus as your business could be that you may be missing out on an opportunity to get other personal needs met. When you support a cause with very different activities to your business, you may discover new skills or talents and skills you didn’t know you had. Volunteering in an area very different to your business could also help stimulate fresh ideas for how your business could evolve into something more aligned with your heart. Supporting a cause that’s different from your business can also help you switch off from the ‘norm’ of your day-to-day life.
A potential downside of supporting a cause which has a very different focus to your business is that there may be less scope to joint-venture with them. That said, you just don’t know what supporters they have or how they may be looking to expand or grow. So I wouldn’t be put off choosing a cause that has a completely different focus to your business.
Irrespective of the scope of the cause, what’s more important is that your choice engages your heart! That you select a cause you’re excited about becoming involved with and that’s aligned with the legacy you’d like to leave in this world. When you support a cause that’s close to your heart, this deep heartfelt connection will help you continue to feel motivated and authentically put charitable giving at the core of your business over the long-term.
If you select a cause that’s a good fit with your values, needs, motivation, and goals, you’ll expand your network of like-minded people, this will make you feel good, and you’ll be making a difference, irrespective of whether the scope of the cause are related to your business.
Here are some questions you may find helpful:
- Do you want to support a cause that conducts research?
- Or would you prefer to support a cause that is more action-focused?
- Do you want to support a cause that supports charitable activities from a distance?
- Or do you want the cause to be more active ‘in the field’?
SIZE: What size of cause would you like to work with?
Would you prefer to work with and support a small or large cause? There are obviously pros and cons of each. When you connect and work with a small cause, you may be able to get more highly involved in what they’re doing. It can often be easier to understand the scope of their work, what’s actually going on, their priorities, and to build strong relationships with the key players. By contrast, when you work with and support a larger organisation, they may have broader reach or have more resources available to them.
LOCALITY: Where does the cause operate?
Your preference is likely to relate to your reasons for supporting a charitable cause in the first place.
- Do you want to support a charity that is local to you, so you feel you can get involved, and feel part of a force for good within your local community?
- Or would you prefer to be part of a global movement by supporting an international cause?
And of course, there are also large international charities or not-for-profit organisations with local branches.
RESOURCES: How does the cause allocate resources?
Many people have the belief that they prefer to support charities where most of the money goes directly to those in need. I used to think this too until I realised its many flaws.
Expecting causes to have low operating costs infers the expectation that people doing good in the world, should work for free, or not be paid well: that money should not be spent on administrative or operational costs. But how can any professional organisation be effective under those restraints? Especially if you’re trying to operate internationally, in third world countries or those devastated by war or natural disaster, where distribution costs are often very high due to a lack of infrastructure?
It feels like a dose of cultural madness! Especially when many of those with this mindset expect to be paid for doing their own jobs or to receive state bene ts, whether or not they contribute to society? I’m sure most of those with this view wouldn’t be happy if they were expected to work for nothing or to contribute to society in return for benefits (other than those in genuine critical need of them obviously). There has been a backlash in recent years of performance-based pay yet I wonder how different the world would be if it was culturally acceptable to reward people based on their contribution to society.
If a cause is to have the greatest possible impact this requires resources, investment in skilled people, technology, training, security, systems, offices, distribution and other operating costs typical of any organisation. Yes, many of those working for causes are unpaid volunteers who do great work but there is often the need for well-paid specialists too.
Having a low cost-base isn’t a measure of efficiency or impact. If the purpose of the cause is to send tents to those who need them, they will need reliable distribution channels in order to ensure the tents arrive at the desired destination, and in a timely manner. To not invest in these good distribution services could result in the tents never arriving, or turning up too late.
To choose a social cause based solely on operational or admin costs is like selecting a drug based on the one with the lowest production cost rather than the one that will heal a particular symptom or illness.
Efficiency, effectiveness and social impact are far more meaningful criteria to consider when choosing a charity to support, rather than simply their operational costs.
LEGAL ENTITY: What type do you want to support?
You may not yet have any preference about the type of cause you want to support but it is worth noting at this stage that registered charities and not-for-profit organisations are, in most countries, governed by tighter legislation than social enterprises, community projects or unregistered social causes. This means there could be implications for you, your business and the cause, depending on what you want do – particularly if you want to raise funds for a registered charity as I explain in my blog Cause Marketing. From a practical perspective, there are different registers for each type of cause.
Of course, there is no requirement to support only registered charities or formal social enterprises. For example, you may wish to support a more informal cause such as a sports club or athlete; someone doing good in your community; someone who has adopted children (which to me is one of the most charitable ‘deeds’ anyone can do); someone who is struggling to raise the costs of medical care; local community groups or schools; or someone who has lost a loved one which is impacting on their income. There are likely to be many people around you who could do with help.
Step 2: Decide how you want to contribute
Once you’re clear on the reasons you’d like to ‘give’ through your business, and the type of cause you’d like to support, the next step is to consider how you’d like to contribute to a cause. Ask yourself:
- How do I want to support causes?
- What time, money or resources do I want to invest in this?
You may find my blog article 25 Ways to Support Causes through Your Business helpful in answering these questions.
Step 3: Do your research
A critical step in deciding which cause to support is to do your research. You want to be able to make informed decisions that will enable you to support social causes that are well managed, make the most of your support and satisfy your reasons for doing this in the first place. The level of research you do is personal. What’s important is that you at least check out what’s important to you.
Some people don’t do the same level of research for causes connected to them personally as they would for an unknown cause but remember whatever decision you make in terms of who you choose to support is a reflection of your business. I’m someone who naturally trusts people until they give me cause for concern. However, it’s still prudent to check out at least the basic facts – just as you would check out business partners or suppliers. I’m sure you don’t want to be associated with a social cause that ends up in the press for the wrong reasons! So make sure you research how the organisation is registered, structured, governed, the impact they are actually having and whether you share similar values.
What to research
Some people like to gather facts and figures by doing what’s called secondary research – reviewing accounts, journals, reports and information available on the Internet. Others prefer to gather their own (primary) research by getting out there and speaking to people.
The types of things to research include:
- What is the purpose or mission of the cause?
- What governance structures are in place?
- What relevant experience do the management team have?
- What is the scope of the cause’s activities?
- How is the cause funded?
- What press coverage has there been?
- What are people saying about the cause on social media?
- How is the cause performing financially?
- What tangible results is the cause getting?
- What challenges are they facing?
- What are their plans for the next few years?
- How do they fit with your reasons for supporting a social cause?
- Do you seem a good fit personally with what they’re looking for? f they are potential social suppliers, what do their existing customers say about them?
- How do they measure and report their impact and the results they are getting from their efforts?
- What awards have they won?
It’s also worth researching the actual difference the cause is making in relation to its mission, goals and the field it’s operating in.
There are many charities and social causes set up with good intentions but which unfortunately do not deliver the impact they’d hoped. In the worst cases, good intentions can actually make things worse for those on the ground. One of the main models for charitable giving in the 1970s was to give hand-outs to those in need rather than provide longer-term solutions. However, it’s now widely recognised that giving hand-outs over the long-term breeds co-dependency rather than sustainability. It is important to check out the impact that causes you’re considering are having and whether they are getting good results or wasting resources.
Where to find causes to support
There is no one register of potential cause to support. Most countries have registers per type of cause but for causes that don’t fall under the most common category of cause e.g. a registered charity/non-profit or social enterprise and many causes aren’t registered anywhere. However there quite a few ways to find the right charitable partners for you:
Your existing networks – ask your network of friends, family and business contacts if they know any causes that t your criteria. Remember, your networks are both those you know personally and through your business.
Governing organisations – in most countries you can find out key information about formal charitable entities through public records or professional bodies, e.g. registered charities, not-for-pro ts, social enterprises and B-corps (or any other name for these).
Portal websites – there are quite a few websites that list various social causes:
- UK Charity Commission – https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/charity-commission
- Social Enterprise UK – http://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/
- Scottish Charity Regulator – http://www.oscr.org.uk/
- Charities Aid Foundation (UK) – https://www.cafonline.org/
- National Council for Voluntary Organisations (UK) – https://www.ncvo.org.uk/
- Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations – http://www.scvo.org.uk/
- Charity Navigator (US) – http://www.charitynavigator.org/ to find charities
- GuideStar (US) – http://www.guidestar.org/ – the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organisations
- Givewell – http://www.givewell.org/
- Melissa Data’s Nonprofit Lookup – find information on over 1.4 million registered nonprofit organizations in the United States
- The IRS Charity Search – to officially verify the status of any charity in the United States, use this IRS search tool.
Social media groups - put out a request out in a group you are a member of on social media, e.g. “I’m looking to find a cause that focuses on this particular type of work. Does anybody know of any that do this?
The Internet – Google the type of cause you’d like to support; search groups and causes on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or on ‘Meet Up’.
Your local community - check with your library, on notice boards or community magazines for local clubs, projects or causes.
Volunteering – if like me, you find facts and figures helpful but also like to get a feel for people or a project, then volunteering is a great way to do this. I know I make better decisions when I meet people and experience their work. Having an emotional connection with those involved is as important as the cause’s reputation and sustainability.
Reach out and speak to people - having conversations with a range of people associated with the cause (e.g. supporters, staff, beneficiaries, etc.) can give you a really good feel for what a cause is about, the impact they have and current needs.
Step 4: Decide which cause to support
Phew! Now it’s time to decide which cause to support.
Of course if like me, you only have one strong contender, this is likely to be an easy decision to make, as long as your research concludes supporting it would be a smart move. However, if you’re considering more than one cause, a really good way to determine which is the best fit for you is to review them all relative to ‘critical success factors’. I explain how to do this in my Give-to-Profit Book.
Frequently asked questions
Can I support more than one cause at a time?
As I mentioned earlier, if you are a small business I suggest you focus on supporting one charity initially if you want to get involved in its work or do fundraising for them. If you want to make donations to a few different causes, to source social suppliers or donate to others’ fundraising activities in ways that doesn’t take up any more of your time, that’s quite easy to do. But where you’re building up a relationship with a cause or fundraising on its behalf I’d suggest working with one at a time.
If you decide to ‘buy social’ you’re unlikely to find one social cause that fulfills all your business needs and so by selecting the right suppliers you’ll probably end up supporting a few causes. I support different social causes in various ways through my business. When I rent rooms for talks, workshops and networking events I prefer to use facilities provided by charities. I sometimes employ local young people without jobs to help with social media and the techie side of my business. I have a couple of causes I regularly raise funds for too.
How long ‘should’ I support a charity for?
That really is up to you though again if you want to commit to supporting one main cause I’d suggest committing to it for at least a year – unless they are looking for a shorter commitment. No decision you make is permanent. You may decide to raise funds or make donations to one main charity, and then support also other social causes on an ad-hoc basis. For example, the main charity I’ve supported for the last few years (doing fundraising and volunteering) is called Create Global Healing. However, I’ve also supported many other charitable causes when asked to support my friends, clients, business partners and local projects. And I consciously choose to source social suppliers where possible.
Can I really grow my business by supporting social causes?
Of course, there are already many profitable social enterprises – both those set up formally as a social cause and also commercial businesses who chose to embed social impact into their business activities. Your business can easily benefit from charitable activities if you have a sound business, which offers marketable products or services people want to buy. However, charitable giving isn’t going to fix a weak product or poorly managed business.
Should I include staff, followers or clients to help select a cause to support?
While this can be a good thing for larger businesses, if you run a small business it is really important the main cause you support is one that touches your heart. With a small business, your personal and business ‘brands’ are interlinked. The causes you support and how you do this become part of your story – what people think, say, remember about you and ask you about. As a solo-preneur, your choice of cause is a reflection of you. When you’re enthusiastic about the cause you’re supporting through your business, you’re more likely to remain committed to it – so I suggest either making the decision yourself or at least coming up with a shortlist you’d love to support if you really do want to involve others in the decision.
You’re more likely to build a good relationship with a cause and enjoy the benefits of supporting them if you choose one close to your heart – whether this is in the same or different field to your business.
Before deciding which cause to support, get clear on the type of cause you’d like to support, and the extent to which you’d like to do this. Doing this will help you identify a cause that’s a good fit for you and your business.
While you may support a number of causes in different ways (such as donating money or social sourcing), if you’re going to volunteer or raise funds for a cause, there can be great benefits in only raising funds for one charity at a time.
I hope that’s given you some ideas of how to choose a cause to support through your business. If you would like any help with this, you can book a strategy session with me here.
P.S. If you want to learn how to grow your business by incorporating fundraising into your marketing or business, check out The 90-Day Give-to-Profit Fundraising Challenge.
Often described as one of the most authentic and inspiring souls you can meet, Alisoun is on a mission to improve the lives of a million people – by making it easy for businesses to be a profitable force for good, and through her support of causes that tackle poverty, education and social justice.
Alisoun’s keynote talks, training, mentoring, and best-selling books Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes and Heartatude: The 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success have favorably changed the good fortune of thousands of people worldwide. She loves doing humanitarian work, fundraising and living by the beach in Scotland.
Alisoun is also the founder of an online business training academy and has written the following free resources:
- Ebook: 101 Ways To Attract Great Clients, With Heart, Integrity & Social Impact (click here)
- Ebook: 52 Ways to Raise Funds for Charities and Social Causes Through Your Business (click here)
- Ebook: The 9 Secrets to Signing Up Clients Without Selling (click here)
- The Online Course Creator Checklist – download here.
You can connect with Alisoun here: