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Graphic showing quote that is in the body textWhen you’re growing a small business, what happens in the community around you is almost as important as what happens within your organization. Strong, tight-knit communities cultivate thriving businesses, and business owners can set themselves up for success by being a good corporate neighbor to the communities they serve.

“Being a good neighbor takes a locally based approach to corporate responsibility,” explains Jake Gross, Vice President, Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and Fair Banking Manager at Byline Bank. “It means getting involved with local initiatives and going beyond selling goods or services to better your community.”

It’s also good business. Customers increasingly flock to brands whose values align with their own, with more than four in five shoppers considering a brand’s values in their shopping decisions. And, because today’s employees seek out like-minded employers, being a corporate neighbor can help you attract and retain top talent, too.

Thankfully, there are more opportunities than ever to strengthen your community. Here are five ways to give back—plus, insights from Gross on how to make each of your ventures a success.

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1. Join your local chamber of commerce

Part of being a good corporate neighbor is keeping your finger on the pulse of the community—and joining your local chamber of commerce, or other business organizations, is a great way to help out.

“Chambers do a fantastic job identifying community needs,” Gross says. “You’ll have a forum to discuss issues affecting the community, which can help you identify service opportunities.”

These conversations can help you better understand the community you serve, making it easier to identify unmet needs in the market that your business could fill—or even gaps within your existing business offerings. Plus, you can meet like-minded leaders in the community to build your network, share resources and identify partnership opportunities.

2. Host a donation drive

Running a donation drive can be a great way to get much-needed essentials to the hands of those who need them most. It also invites customers and clients to take an active role in your philanthropy, deepening their relationships with your brand and enticing customers to visit you in-store.

Gross recommends laying the foundation for a successful drive by reaching out to nonprofits and advocacy groups in your area to identify the community’s most pressing needs and selecting the most impactful drive.

As the price of food continues to outpace inflation and food banks face steep demand, food drives can be especially meaningful in helping families. But you might also run a clothing drive, toy drive or school supply drive to help the local community.

No matter which cause you choose, Gross recommends focusing on marketing to set your drive up for success. Send out emails letting loyal customers know about the drive and promote the drive on social media, with instructions on how to donate.

You can partner with other businesses in your area to collaborate on a drive as well, Gross says. “Why not pool your resources and make it a community event? You’ll bring in more donations and attract each other’s shoppers, too.”

3. Become a sponsor

Sponsoring a non-profit is one of the simplest—and most effective—ways to give back to the community. There are always several nonprofits in need of added support, Gross says, which means you’ll have plenty of opportunity to find a cause that aligns with your brand mission.

Gross recommends carving out room in your annual budget to donate to a nonprofit and then devising a plan to identify the right opportunity. The ideal sponsorship might align with your brand identity, he says. Or it could simply have personal significance to you or to members of your team.

Byline gets many of its sponsorship ideas from employee resource groups—such as our Latinx and Neurodiversity resource groups—and Gross recommends looking to your employees for insight on how to donate. “Empowering your employees to guide your donation efforts shows that you’re a caring employer, and it also means you’re making an impact that will resonate with your team,” he says.

4. Invest in mentorship

Every business owner wants access to a thriving pipeline of talent. Becoming a mentor can help you expand your professional network while, at the same time, giving back to the community.

Mentorship programs allow you to create opportunities for under-served or under-represented community members, such as those new to the country or students from underprivileged backgrounds. It can also be the starting point for long-lasting relationships that help your business thrive.

“Mentorship really does help build future leaders,” Gross says. “At Byline Bank, we’ve had people start as high school placements, move onto college internships and then get an opportunity with us after graduation. Our mentorship program allowed us to identify and develop really great talent.”

Consider reaching out to local schools, advocacy groups and education centers to arrange internship or student placement opportunities, and take part in local career fairs to meet motivated talent.

5. Empower your employees to give back

Being a good corporate neighbor means leading by example, and small businesses can make an even greater impact by helping their employees volunteer.

If it’s feasible, consider offering volunteer time off (VTO) that allows employees to take time off with pay to volunteer during work hours, Gross advises. “Byline Bank offers each of our employees eight paid hours off each year to give back to their communities. We have folks who use that time to serve on boards or teach financial literacy classes.”

You’ll get the most from your VTO policy by highlighting volunteer opportunities and encouraging employees to use their hours, he says. Invite team members to share opportunities, too, and consider personally volunteering for causes that matter most to your employees.

If offering VTO isn’t feasible, setting aside time—a full day, an afternoon or even a few hours at lunch—to volunteer as a group can be just as impactful. “It’s the best kind of team-building that there is because you’re all focused on giving together,” Gross says. “It just creates this magic in the air.”

The bottom line

Being a good corporate neighbor is no longer a “nice to have” for today’s small businesses—it’s imperative to meet customer expectations, attract and retain talent, and attract partnerships that set your business up for success.

Learn how to make room in your business’s budget for sponsorships, volunteer time off and other philanthropic endeavors by connecting with a Byline Bank business banker today.

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