Over years of working with nonprofit and community organizations, one thing that was consistent across this experience was the absence of small businesses from social impact initiatives. Small business owners are missing a significant opportunity to connect with the communities they serve. This post gives examples of how small businesses can help the community while increasing the awareness and trust of their brand through community business partnerships. Similarly, this article unpacks how nonprofits and community organizations can engage small businesses in a meaningful way.

Small Business Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

For over a decade, I worked with multi-sector partnerships to implement complex social change strategies that deployed dozens of strategies to reach thousands of people across the U.S. and its territories. There were few examples of small businesses being truly engaged in grassroots community engagement and benefit work. That doesn’t mean small businesses are doing something bad, on the contrary. Many small businesses do great things for their communities, we just never know about them or they’re sporadic/lack consistency. 

Sometimes as a small business owner, you want to help your community because you’re passionate about a specific cause or want to give back. You might not want to talk about the good work you’re doing because you think the act of helping is beneficial enough. You might be thinking that by talking about your work you’ll be seen as “bragging”. Or that the value you’re providing to the community isn’t something to share widely because you’re “just helping out”. 

Benefits of a CSR for Small Businesses

There are several benefits to small businesses you might be missing out on if you aren’t sharing information about how you make an impact on the community with key audiences:

  • Talking about your business’ community impact can build the “know, like, and trust” with your potential customers. 
  • Sharing your community brings awareness to your brand and helps potential customers align with your values. 
  • Employees also like working for companies that align with their values. Many employees want to work for companies that are making a positive impact in the world which can help attract and retain top talent.

Instead of “being the best-kept secret”, you can leverage the community work you’re already doing by establishing an impact mission and developing your own corporate social responsibility program. Creating your own CSR is easy and will help you take action to make a consistent change. Additionally, it will help your community partners engage you in meaningful work that needs your voice and support.

Community Business Partnerships

As a business, participating in community change can be a rewarding and meaningful way to make a positive impact in the world. By engaging with your community and working to address important issues, you can help raise awareness for causes you care about and your business at the same time. You can also use the gifts bestowed upon your successful business or the resources you have to support good work in your community.

What is Community Business Partnership?

Community business partnerships are purposeful collaborative efforts to reach a particular impact goal or community benefit. Some partnerships are formally established with Memorandums of Agreement or Memorandums of Understanding creating a legally binding partnership. Other partnerships are one-time or sporadic events or activities that take place between privately owned businesses or organizations and public entities or nonprofit organizations.

Community business partnerships are mutually beneficial relationships when they successfully leverage the synergy between shared values and vision. The social impact of such partnerships creates avenues for new work to be done in a community or sustainable long-term approaches to solving complex problems. 

Businesses that set up their own CSR program or establish a formal impact mission can determine what the nature of their engagement in community impact initiatives looks like. There are endless opportunities for businesses to create new and innovative approaches to supporting the community through the right partnerships.

Lummi tribe members welcome federal visitors to learn about how they leverage multi-sector partnership to support their youth. Community business partnerships are important for youth programs.
The Lummi tribe in Washington State show how their community relies on multiple partners to serve the needs of their youth. (Federal site visit 2018)

5 Steps to Create Business Charity Partnerships

Small businesses can participate in community change by taking a few concrete actions that will help them establish their own CSR program. 

  1. Identify how community impact work is good for your bottom line: Participating in community change can have a positive impact on your bottom line. By supporting community and social issues, you can build stronger relationships with your customers, employees, stakeholders, and improve your reputation and brand. The first step is to identify how having an impact mission and a profit-driven business can support each other.
  2. Demonstrate benefits for your community: Participating in community change helps create a stronger community. By working to address important issues and support positive change, you can help to create healthier, thriving communities. The next step is to catalog how the work you are doing for the community or the work you aspire to do will benefit others and the community. 
  3. Establish a formal impact mission: Creating a brand that has an impact mission equal to its profit mission is an important step towards committing to continued community support. Signaling to community partners that your business is in it for the long haul with an established impact mission will tell them how to work with you and the causes you support. 
  4. Get the right partners: Impact work is no fun alone. Having partners that can help sustain the work over time is important. If you are not ready to establish your own impact mission or your business needs a partner to do the work while you support in other ways, partners are essential. Interview partners, look for the right opportunity fit for your business, or establish partnerships that allow you to give the right ways for you.
  5. Catalog success: Whatever you’re doing to make an impact, counting your successes has multiple benefits. You’ll have clear evidence that you are working on your impact mission to and can use this information to augment your marketing efforts. You’ll also have impact stories that show how your business supports community transformation.

When small businesses work with community organizations they are creating sustainable partnerships that can help create significant transformation. Committing to being on boards, fundraising efforts, or even donating time or goods are common ways for businesses to support charities or impact-based organizations.

Small Business

The best way to signal your small business is open to helping community organizations is to add information to your website and social media channels offering to help in a specific way that fits your goals and business model.

Community Partners

Approaching business partners can be daunting. Building trust with business owners through networking and existing supporters is a great way to limit the pressure during the initial outreach to a potential partner.

Nonprofit Organizations & Community Coalitions 

Impact-driven organizations often struggle to connect to members of the business community who can support them. There should be a better way to match members of the business community who want to make a difference with organizations that do the work daily.

5 Ways To Attract The Right Business Partners in Your Nonprofit, Community Coalition, or Multi-Sector Partnership 

As a nonprofit organization or community coalition/partnership, you can make partnering with your organization a breeze to help attract businesses aligned with your vision, values, and work. Leveraging small businesses in your community to help you make a bigger impact is a great way to increase your sustainability. Public-private partnerships are sometimes required or preferred by funders and can put you at an advantage when discussing sustainability tactics with your funder.

Here are a few best practices you can follow to connect with local businesses that can help your organization reach its goals.

  1. Always invite multiple businesses to community partnerships. Partners tend to be busy, but local businesses often have few representatives they can send to support your meetings or efforts. Offset this by inviting multiple business partners and asking them to please send an alternate if they cannot attend. This practice is common in business networking meetings and can be adapted for your partners as well. 
  2. Leverage the local chamber of commerce or civic groups. Local groups that support businesses are great places to advertise open board of directors positions, event space needs, or opportunities for sponsorships. Connect with your local civic organizations to ask them about the rules for sharing your opportunities with their members. They may have a reduced nonprofit rate to join that will allow you to post opportunities to the group via a newsletter or online community.
  3. Make it easy for businesses to support you. If you want to attract local businesses, make it easy for them to support you. You can create a page on your website with details like:
    1. Common items you need to be donated.
    2. Your current fundraising campaign or the status of your annual fundraising campaign.
    3. Volunteer opportunities and contact information.
    4. Sponsorship opportunities, including opportunities to sponsor volunteer appreciation events which give them more eyeballs on their business’ impact mission.
  4. Create specific positions for business representatives or roles to support your work. Local business leaders are likely very busy but also want to support in any way possible. If you have a specifically defined role with a timeline or time commitment that allows the business leader to better assess if they can help you or not. Create an ask that gives the business owner exactly what they need to deceive if they can support you or not. For example, you need a training facility and a local business owner can donate a conference room for 2 hours every month on Tuesday mornings at 7 am for your nonprofit’s coffee connection 
  5. Request support in a variety of ways. As you determine what you need from the business community, create several asks that you will communicate directly via email and through marketing and public relations efforts. These asks can include:
    1. Space to help you serve or fulfill your duties
    2. Board of directors members
    3. Financial support or campaign information
    4. Volunteer opportunities
    5. Donations of a specific item or service

While it never hurts to ask, businesses often have a lot of balls to juggle too. The best way to approach a potential new business partner is to get to know the business owner and form a relationship. By sharing your impact story and results, you can create trust and transparency in your new relationship.

Creating Stronger Community Business Partnerships

The Social Impact Level Up Collective invited Neshe’ Conley, MPH CHES to join a live conversation about best practices to work with the community through impact storytelling. Neshe’ gave a wealth of advice for organizations to follow as best practices in community engagement.

Neshe’s 5 tips for engaging the community in impact-driven work where the power is held by the organizations doing the work. This advice includes both businesses and nonprofits or civic organizations. These recommendations are included in this article as a reminder about how to ensure that the community is front and center in everything we do as social entrepreneurs.

5 Best Practices to Follow for Community Engagement

  1. It’s not about you. As the organization or partnership leading the work, the people you serve are always first and foremost.
  2. Ensuring the people you serve are empowered to give feedback and be part of decision-making processes is key. Include community in your quality assurance/quality improvement process.
  3. Giving space for the community to lead you is important to ensure that power is actually being shared.
  4. Make sure any information collected from the community is given back to the community and shared broadly.
  5. Always segment the demographics to find the best fit for the solutions you want to propose to the community but do not assume the solution you choose is the right or only one. Allow the community to have empowered input into the solutions being offered and how funding is used.

Community participatory budgeting and community based participatory research are two methodologies that deeply engage community in impact-driven work. Organizations and partnerships can advance their community engagement work by learning how to leverage these practices.

Get Support For Your Organization

Looking for new approaches to creating strong community business partnerships? Not sure how to strengthen your public-private partnership? Interested in making a consistent impact through your business by establishing an impact mission? 

Reach out and book a call. Our 1:1 business and nonprofit consulting services provide you with expert advice and support to strengthen your approach to corporate social responsibility and community building. 

Small business owners get help with: 

  • Establishing a formal impact mission
  • Assessing your current impact work and aligning it with your business goals
  • Leveraging your values and impact in your business marketing

Nonprofit organizations and civic groups get support to:

  • Leverage community relationships to fulfill your impact goals
  • Creating multiple streams of revenue, including leveraging corporate donations
  • Demonstrate your impact to attract business partners
  • Creating a community participatory budgeting process

Book an initial consultation today! 


Example Email for Building Community Business Partnerships

If you’re having trouble connecting with local business owners, this email template can help you develop a customized outreach message inviting support. To use this template, insert your information in the [brackets]

Subject: Join Forces to Create Positive Change in the Community

Dear [Business Owner’s Name],

I hope this email finds you well. My name is [Your Name] and I am reaching out from [Nonprofit Organization Name]. We are a local nonprofit dedicated to [briefly describe your mission or goals].

I was excited to learn more about your business and the impact you are making in our community. Your focus on [insert what you admire about their business/mission] aligns perfectly with our own goals to create positive change in our community. [insert goal you have that aligns]

As a nonprofit, we rely on the support of local businesses to help us achieve our mission. That’s why I am reaching out today to see if you would be interested in partnering with us on an impact-driven initiative that would benefit both our organizations and the community we serve.

Here are some potential benefits to your business:

  • Increased brand visibility and recognition as a socially responsible business
  • Positive reputation as a company that supports the local community
  • Opportunities to connect with new customers who share similar values
  • Potential tax deductions for charitable donations

We are open to discussing any ideas or opportunities that would be mutually beneficial for our organizations. Some potential ideas for collaboration could include [insert your ideas or initiatives here].

If you are interested in learning more about this partnership opportunity, I would be happy to discuss this further with you. Please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like to set up a time to talk about potential next steps. [insert information on how to book a call]

Thank you for considering this opportunity to create a positive impact in our community together.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

[Nonprofit Organization Name]

[Contact information]


Neshe' Conley MPH CHES and Wendie Veloz host Advanced Storytelling live as part of the Social Impact Level Up- Uplevel Your Story Challenge. Two women pictured smiling against a burgundy background.

Elevated Co. was founded by Neshe’ Conley, MPH, CHES, who wanted to create change within the field of public/community health and social impact. Coming from a healthcare leadership background, Neshe’ used her expertise in communications, outreach, strategy-building, programming, and customer service to create a company that has maximum impact based on the needs of communities.

Connect with Neshe’ here:

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  1. Great, looking forward to having you back! Please reach out if you need support with something you’re working on. We’re always here to help!

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