As the holiday season approaches, many small-business owners are considering how they can give back to their communities or the causes near and dear to their hearts. But figuring out how to maximize your charitable dollars and make the biggest impact as a small business isn’t always easy. There are so many worthy causes and nonprofits seeking donations. How do you decide how to give most effectively?

Here are five key tips:

1. Give to organizations aligned with your business goals.

The best charitable opportunities are often those tied to your business mission. Greg O’Neill, co-owner of a small upscale grocery chain in Chicago called Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, gets inundated with donation requests. But the company targets its charitable gifts to organizations that promote healthy eating, feed the hungry and encourage sustainable farming—three causes that naturally linked to the store’s mission. “Generally we feel we make a bigger difference close to home,” O’Neill told Reuters. In exchange for the store’s donations, the nonprofits serve Pastoral’s food at their events—a win-win for everyone.

2. Consider “in kind” donations.

Business owners may be quick to pull out their checkbook when nonprofits call, but you can often reap more business value by giving away your products or services. Boston Brewing Company, maker of Sam Adams beer, is known for giving free beer to charitable fundraisers throughout New England as well as giving its beer away as prizes in raffles and silent auctions. By handing out its beer instead of cash, the company gets its products in the hands of more people (read: free advertising)—helping create stronger brand awareness. (A federal tax deduction is available on the assessed “fair market value” of the product or service donated, according to IRS rules.)

 3. Get your employees involved.

Research suggests that young workers today want their workplace to have a charitable bent.  A 2014 survey by Achieve and the Case Foundation found that 39% of Millennials research a prospective employer’s philanthropic and service-based activities before a job interview and 55% were convinced to accept a job after discussing the employers “cause work.” Offering employees volunteer opportunities—whether cleaning up a local park or helping stock a local food pantry—can create team spirit in the office and boost employee morale.

 4. Get your customers involved.

Businesses can also engender goodwill among their customers by being philanthropic. TOM Shoes is famous for donating a pair of shoes to a child in need for each pair pair it sells. Other companies give a percentage of their overall profits to charity or create special products and donate the proceeds to a nonprofit. Promoting your charitable giving in a meaningful way can give your customers something extra to feel good about when buying from you.

 5. Make generosity a year-round affair.

Don’t make charitable giving and volunteer work a once-a-year activity in November or December. Companies that engrain philanthropy in their business model will reap many benefits beyond just a tax deduction. They’ll be known for their generosity—an investment that will pay back many times over.

Next Steps:  You’re busy. We get it. So why not let us do some work for you? By signing up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter, you’ll receive hand-picked articles, How-Tos and videos covering the latest in small biz tools and trends. We’ll do the research while you spend your time where it counts: managing and growing your business.

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