In order to thrive businesses must, of course, make a financial profit. However, the most successful businesses know that “profit” can be understood not merely in terms of financial gain but also in terms of general benefits to oneself and to the community. It is this broad definition of “profit” that people reference when they speak about a “profitable experience.”

When businesses give back to the community, they are truly creating a profitable experience for everyone involved. The community profits from the company’s support, and the company gains a respected position in the community, new business contacts, and an increase in employee morale and brand recognition. Quite often, these benefits also lead to increased financial profits for the organization.

Sometimes organizations are uniquely positioned to help in their community. In recent years, corporate philanthropy has moved beyond simply making financial contributions to charity. A recent ABC News story highlighted Google’s newest venture, Google Ideas, which puts its best and brightest minds in the service of increasing access to technology across the world. However, you don’t have to be a multi-billion dollar company to be an asset to your community. Even small businesses have products and skills that can aid food banks, social outreach programs, local governments, and educational initiatives.

Widening the understanding of “the spirit of giving” beyond just financial contributions can also help companies create unique, morale-building experiences for their employees. Giving employees and management a fully paid day to volunteer together to build a house for Habitat for Humanity can produce an infinitely more rewarding experience than the typical corporate retreat.

The presence of company representatives within the community also puts a human face on the organization, and a company’s charitable work can become an important part of brand awareness and messaging. Businesses often highlight charitable work in advertising and on their website. When employees are volunteering as part of a company initiative, they often wear logoed attire that indicates their affiliation. Consumers not only have an increased awareness of the corporate brand; they also build positive associations with it.

Additionally, employees can directly benefit from the volunteering experience by accruing new skill sets, which can make them more valuable members of their company and give them a permanent career advantage. A 2011 LinkedIn survey found that 41% of employers gave volunteer work equal consideration with paid work when evaluating the experiences of job candidates.

Finally, participating actively in helping the community provides a valuable forum for corporate networking. Many non-profits rely on services and financial contributions from a diversity of businesses. Working with these non-profits can help businesses forge valuable connections with other companies and begin the work of building consumer associations between brands. Collaborating in the service of a charitable cause can be the forerunner of more formal cooperative ventures.

In short, giving back to the community is a win-win proposition for everyone involved: the community gains from the services, products, or funds made available; employees enjoy increased morale and gain valuable skills; and companies profit from networking opportunities and increased brand recognition. Broadening the understanding of corporate philanthropy from a sole focus on financial contributions to a broader vision of community involvement can increase all of these benefits.

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