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15 Community Outreach Ideas for Small Businesses

Jul 16, 2020 | Business Advice

Last updated: April 2022

About 1 in 5 small U.S. businesses fail within the first year, and half of the other 4 never survive past the five-year mark. If you are struggling to get more customers and establish yourself within your local community, you can take a different approach. One that can benefit everyone.

The coronavirus crisis shrunk budgets and literally made people go back to their roots. The roots of small businesses are in the community. So, if you service people within a 50-mile radius (give or take), this article is for you. Here you will learn how to:

  • Find an efficient, low-cost way to attract and retain customers
  • Spread awareness about your business
  • Reconnect or form lasting relationships with your community
  • Create a lasting positive impact on locals

The solution is called community outreach.

Business Outreach Is a Win-Win For All Sides

Giving back to your community will bring you closer to the people, and it can also directly boost your sales. Locals are always willing to buy from businesses they know firsthand. What is more, community involvement teaches your employees to care about more than just the money they are paid, but also connect with locals and the community where they themselves belong.

There is an unexpected benefit for you as well. Many small business owners tend to forget that they, too, are part of a community, and lending time and money to those who support your business is a powerful way to build lasting relationships with people. Many marketing campaigns cannot achieve what community outreach marketing can.

What Is Community Outreach Marketing Exactly?

Business outreach, also known as community outreach marketing, refers to the practice of involving your team and business with local events and causes that are important to your community. The goal is both to help locals and improve their lives and increase the awareness of your business within the community.

So, here are some community outreach ideas for small businesses that you can start applying today. Most of these require funding on your part, but if you do it right, the ROI will more than repay your initial investment.

Benefits of Community Outreach for Businesses

By now, you probably already have a few ideas on what you can do to give back to the community and show your values through outreach projects. However, if you are still hesitant whether business outreach is something worth doing and investing in, we decided to make a quick list of the most important benefits for your team and your company.

1. It Improves Your Company Image and Brand Reputation

One of the basic truths in business is that people avoid companies that are perceived as irresponsible and not trustworthy. In fact, a Cone Communications study found that 9 out of 10 people say they would boycott a business if they learned of its irresponsible actions. By reaching out to the community and helping those in need, you will be solidifying your company image as a responsible and caring business.

What is more, another study by Cone Communications found that almost 60% of Americans are more likely to purchase a product that is associated with a non-profit-corporate partnership. The study also found that more than 55% of U.S. consumers would travel an additional 10 minutes out of their way to purchase a product associated with a social cause they care about.

Clearly, community outreach is important to people, to your prospective customers, and your involvement has a direct, positive impact on how they perceive your business.

2. It Strengthens Your Local Presence

Small, location-based businesses often struggle to assert themselves among the top local choices for their community. Through outreach, you can establish and improve your relevance to the community and outshine your competitors.

Community outreach is not always about feeding the world’s poor or ending child labor. As great as these causes are, you can start small, local. Let people see who you are, what projects are dear to your heart, and they will not only want to do business with you, but they will also want to help in your outreach activities.

Doing that will strengthen your local presence, and even if people don’t immediately need your service, you will gradually become their go-to company when they do need it.

3. It Improves Customer Experience

People love feeling like they are a part of something bigger, something that helps others. By advertising your community outreach and letting people get to know your business better, you will be offering a richer customer experience. They will know they are doing business with a company that cares about the area and its pain points.

Whenever you feel lost as to what cause to join, listen to your customers. Get their feedback — ask them what programs they would be willing to support or are already involved in. Sometimes, all you need to do is show up and volunteer your time. Outreach is easier than you think. This would truly solidify you as a standup business.

4. It Makes You Less Vulnerable on Social Media

As great as social media is, it still leaves you vulnerable to rival businesses and internet trolls. When locals know how involved you are in community outreach programs, anyone who tries to badmouth you online will not be perceived as a credible source. People would already know and have seen what a dedicated and responsible company you run.

Plus, sharing your outreach activities on your social media profiles is a crucial element of keeping people in-the-know about what you are doing and how they can join your efforts. It is a powerful way to build your brand and unite people around a common goal.

What is more, community outreach can encourage more people to leave positive reviews of your business online, which can only strengthen your reputation and boost your sales.

5. It Fosters a Company Culture Built on Community Values

Establishing a brand can be a foreign concept for small, local businesses. Your reputation in the community, in a way, is similar to what a brand is. It is how you are perceived as a company, and that partially transfers to your products or services. For example, if locals find you to be a trustworthy company, they would assume your services can be trusted, too.

By involving not only your company resources but also your team members in various community projects, you will be fostering a company culture that people will recognize, sympathize with, and respect. That, in turn, can be a powerful advertisement for your business without you having to do anything more.

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#1 Donate What You Don’t Need

Donate What You Don’t Need

Let’s start with something that doesn’t require you to invest money. Do you have used equipment or supplies you won’t need? Good, you can donate those or organize a sale and donate the proceeds from it. 

Look at your inventory, do you need to upgrade something, perhaps your computers? You can donate the old ones to a local school, the library, or just a family in need. It doesn’t even have to be computers, it can be construction tools (if you are a remodeler or a builder), lawn mowers (if you run a landscaping business), paint that will expire soon (if you are a painter). Heck, you can even offer to repaint the local school’s fence for free with that extra paint you have.   

#2 Work With Local Schools

Work With Local Schools

Approach your local school and see how you can help them. Focus on things that their funding typically doesn’t cover. That is where the value of your company’s outreach is, and it is highly unlikely they will decline your help. The best thing about schools is that they are a huge part of the community. Students connect you to families, and they connect you to entire neighborhoods. Locally speaking, helping local schools can be an even more effective strategy than using social media to promote your business

What is even better is that students can act as the perfect mouthpiece for your brand. They talk and share with their peers and families more openly, more often, and more passionately than other groups of people, so your business outreach is essentially limitless if you maintain a long-term relationship with their school. That way, you become an inseparable part of their school, and you can easily attract their attention with different brand promotion events. 

#3 Offer a Scholarship for Local Students

In addition to sponsoring local school events, you can take things a step further and set up a scholarship program for local students. Whether you decide to help youth from a minority or kids who need funds to practice their talent (e.g., sports, music, crafts, etc.), your help will be much appreciated, and it will solidify you as a company that actively cares about helping the community and those in need.

You can partner with other local businesses or organizations so more people can contribute to the program and you can share the financial burden.

#4 Sponsor a Local Sports Team

Sponsor a Local Sports Team

This is one of the most win-win community outreach ideas for businesses that wish to promote their company and encourage sports activities within the community. Staying active has so many health benefits, and being the company to fund local teams and sports events, can only help you. And it’s up to you to decide how much you want to donate. You can provide the uniforms (and put your company logo on it), new equipment, snacks during the games, and you name it. 

#5 Sponsor the Local Theater or Orchestra

Sponsor the Local Theater or Orchestra

If your community doesn’t focus on sports, it probably centers around arts. Do you have a local theater group or a youth orchestra? These groups are often under-funded, and any contribution is most welcome. You can sponsor a play and put your logo on the tickets and at the theater entrance, for example. The good you do for your community can always find its way back to you and your business. 

#6 Start an Internship Program

Start an Internship Program

Internships for young people are a fantastic opportunity for both sides. They gain practical experience working at a small business, and you get more hands to help you with your everyday work. Partner with a local community college or find another educational organization that can connect you with interested youngsters who want to get more experience before they join the workforce. Are they interested in your craft, or perhaps they would like to manage your social media and help with updating or modernizing your website? Ask about their strengths and interests, and this internship would benefit you as much as them.

It may seem like small-scale outreach, but it can potentially have a snowball effect, and it shows your company morale and willingness to help those who lack in experience but not in determination.

#7 Take Time to Volunteer

Take Time to Volunteer

When it comes to community outreach, it is not all about the money. Often, people are more touched by businesses giving their time and attention to a community project rather than providing funding alone. You can make it an annual event. Make a volunteer week, continue to pay your team their usual wages, but instead of doing business as usual, work on a community project. It could be cleaning up the local park, helping with a local community event, hosting a day of fun children’s activities, celebrating a town holiday, visiting a nearby nursing home and spending time with the elderly – your options are so many.

This is both good for your company image, and it can serve as a team-building exercise for your employees. Everyone takes something positive out of it in the end.

#8 Let Customers Pick Your Next Donation/Initiative

Let Customers Pick Your Next Donation

Here is a fun and engaging way to pick your next community outreach project. By asking your customers to help you choose, you are both raising awareness about your company, and the important causes within your community. Encourage clients to vote for individuals, charities, or projects that need support, and you can even make a poll on social media where the ‘word’ travels much faster, and more people will be able to join in the decision making process. 

#9 Understand the Needs of Your Community

Understand the Needs of Your Community

Instead of waiting for people to point you toward an important community project, you can be proactive and look for one yourself. Perhaps the local library needs a new computer, or the nursing home in the neighborhood could use a couple of new benches in the yard? There is so much you can do, and never forget that every bit of help on your part can have a grand impact on local living. You can provide free meals for less fortunate students or pay for new playground equipment. The spirit of giving back can give you so many other ideas.

If you are working with a digital marketing agency to manage your website and social media, be sure to keep in touch with them and add the list of activities and projects you are sponsoring or generally involved with. This will help keep locals informed about what you are doing, when, and whether they can join and help.

#10 Work With NGOs

Work With NGOs

Much like schools and local arts groups, NGOs are also often short on funding, which makes them quite open to partnerships with neighboring businesses. You can offer free services or products in exchange for exposure and positive publicity. NGOs traditionally have high contact rates with the community as they are always looking for ways to generate interest in their cause.

So, if you print your logo on their shirts and caps or even volunteer at their events, this will be more than enough to boost your local visibility and recognition among the general public.

#11 Join the Chamber of Commerce in Your City

When you are dedicated to marketing your business through community outreach, opportunities are everywhere. Including your local Chamber of Commerce. By joining, you can market your business while connecting with other companies and members of your community. What is more, you will be able to use a wide range of advertising opportunities. For example, you can be included in the organization’s newsletter, local publications, and press releases.

Being part of your local Chamber of Commerce also verifies that you are a credible and dependable business. Locals pay attention to these details, and you have a lot to gain by joining the Chamber in your area.

#12 Create Care Boxes to Give Out for the Holidays

Create Care Boxes to Give Out for the Holidays

No one is insured against facing hard times, and it’s the holidays that are often the hardest to go through during a testing period. Make care boxes with essential foods and supplies, and be the beam of hope that people in difficult situations need. They may not become your customers, but kind deeds are often multiplied, and the positive change you will make won’t go unnoticed. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, the year is full of holidays, and they are all fantastic opportunities for you to help those in need. 

It’s not just about building a better brand image for your company, it’s about promoting the spirit of giving back in your society, and that is truly priceless. 

#13 Partner With Other Local Businesses

Partner With Other Local Businesses

Teaming up is probably the smartest, not-so-obvious move you can make. You never know when an unlikely business partnership can start bringing half your customers your way. Do you have a catering business and happen to know a wedding planner? Do you own a bakery with a deli next to your location? As long as you are willing to look, you will always find other business owners eager to join forces in a mutually beneficial partnership.

#14 Incentivize Your Employees by Joining Their Side Projects

Incentivize Your Employees by Joining Their Side Projects

Find out what your team is passionate about outside of work. Is it a volunteering organization they’re a part of, or a community project they’re trying to get support for? When you incentivize your employees to make the change they want to see in their society, you’re not only getting the credit for helping, but you are also strengthening their loyalty to you. An employer who supports a team’s interests and passions outside of work is one worth working for. 

#15 Support a Local Building Project

Support a Local Building Project

If you want to leave a lasting impact on your community, you might want to consider supporting a local building project. It can be for a new library wing, a children’s playground, a help center, or remodeling the community theater. You can bring other small businesses together and share the costs or at least a fraction of them. It would make such a grand difference in how locals see you. 

Bonus Community Outreach Idea: Involve Locals in Your Business

This doesn’t mean hiring them as workers, but rather involving them in certain decision-making processes. For example, are you looking to change your logo or add a seasonal dish to your restaurant menu? Looking for new product ideas or service names? Nothing is too small or too big to ask your community to help with ideas. Including them into the process will not only instantly grant you points of awesomeness, but it will be a fantastic PR move that will increase your local visibility and sales. 

The Bottom Line

If there is any takeaway you get from this blog, it should be this: community outreach doesn’t mean giving your hard-earned money away, so locals think you are cool. Community outreach means lending a helping hand to those who need it. Often, all you need to do is donate your time and volunteer at local events and for projects. No one will blame you if you can’t afford to fund a cause, but everyone will appreciate your input into making it work.

We hope these community outreach ideas for businesses help you better connect with locals and boost your image in the process. Doing that can establish you as an authoritative business within your niche, attract new clients, and make a big difference at the same time. Good luck!

Stay tuned for our next topic!

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