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Nice Guys Finish First

by Keith Thirgood

Volunteering your services can be an excellent way to form new business relationships and raise your business’s profile while lending a hand to a good cause. However, unless you take care, it can also become all-consuming, with little return (besides creating good karma).

There is nothing wrong with good karma, or better yet, feeling good about lending a hand in the community. The whole point of volunteering should not solely be to expand your marketing. If it is, you won’t get very far (read reincarnated as a dung beetle). You should honestly be concerned about the project you chose to support. Doing your best for the project at hand must come before your desire to network. Those who join a cause for purely selfish reasons are usually uncovered. Potential contacts become turned off and few people will do business with those with questionable ethics.

So how do you get more from your efforts than a warm glow?

One method is, to choose a cause that needs someone with your expertise and will allow you to showcase your talents. Major organizations (Lions, United Way, etc.) usually have well-established hierarchies, and positions are often taken, but they offer a better opportunity to build relationships with movers and shakers. One-time events take less time in the long run and can provide a better chance for publicity.

Working with influential people, is more likely to make a difference to your career. Stuffing envelopes may be just as crucial to the cause, but you are unlikely to get much recognition or a chance to build rapport.

Once you’ve volunteered, don’t rush into “making contacts”. As you work together, conversation will run the gamut, from weather to the kids, and inevitably, to business. It’s a friendly, natural way for people of influence to get to know you.

These people may or may not need your services, but chances are they know those who do. If they are impressed by your work on the project, they are likely to refer you to others. You have made valuable contacts. Contacts who can last a lifetime.

If you have taken a leadership role in creating a campaign, organizing volunteers, raising funds, or performed other key functions, you may discreetly blow your own horn. Do it discreetly, but do it, because it is all too easy to have your participation overlooked. Because they donate large sums of money, large corporations often take the spotlight away from individual volunteers. That’s not to knock corporations, because without their contributions many projects would falter. Those in charge of volunteer projects maybe aware of the value you bring, however they may not realize the importance of public recognition to a small business. If they do, they may no know how to help you get that recognition.

Although your efforts were vital to producing a successful project, you won’t automatically receive any collateral marketing opportunities. It is up to you to get the word out. Your, or your company’s, involvement in an important cause might be news to the local newspaper, and it might also be worthy of mention in an industry publication. A graphic monthly may be interested in a design firms involvement in a good cause. Likewise, an accounting periodical might like to know about an accountant’s involvement in fundraising. Send press releases to media that are related to your field. Write them in proper press release language. If you don’t know how, buy a book or hire someone who can write press releases. It’s worth the cost.

Take care not to bite off more than you can chew. Becoming too involved and spending an inordinate amount of time for the cause, will send out mixed messages. To some, you are unselfishly dedicated; to others, it’s a sign that your business is slow or you don’t know how to manage your time properly. Know when to say no.

Volunteering is a great opportunity to meet people and grow your business, but do it because you love it, not for the business reward.

© Keith Thirgood, Capstone Communications Group

Keith is Creative Director of Capstone Communications Group, a Canadian marketing and design firm. He can be reached at
(905) 472-2330 or e-mail him at .

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