I have often believed that small business owners are flexible, responsive and willing to try new things. They are also pretty optimistic when it comes to their businesses as reported by the NSBA’s Mid-Year Economic Report www.nsba.biz . But the big question is whether they are optimistic enough about business to spend money and where will they spend it.

the ceo magazine, innovation
Tommy Spaulding, President, Spaulding Companies

The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver has been one of the most elegant establishments in Colorado since its founding in 1892. It was named one of the world’s 500 best hotels by Travel & Leisure and every U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt (except Calvin Coolidge) has been a guest at the Brown Palace. Dwight Eisenhower even used the hotel as his Western campaign headquarters in 1952.

If you are like most small business owners you probably don’t take a lot of vacations. We all know we should take more but things come up. When I do go on vacation I relax and come back to work refreshed. I must say I don’t like to take too much time away because, frankly I get bored. Maybe that’s because I love my work. I also know other business owners who feel the same way. Not surprising! What is surprising to many is a recent study of employees regarding vacation time.

More and more non-profits are looking for business owners to donate goods and services for events and initiatives. Should you use your business resources for the benefit of non-profits? Should you give away your products or your time? Should you just write a check? Because I am in the business of media production… and every non-profit wants a video… we get lots of requests. I often struggle with how much should we give away and how donating our valuable resources affect the business. We recently decided to help Blandford Nature Center, an organization in our community with a 50 year history. This organization serves 40,000-50,000 visitors annually and hosts field trips for students and countless family and community events. It also has a lot more work to do which is why they needed help. http://bit.ly/1CUC9su

We have adopted this organization and will be producing a variety of productions over the next year. It has been a joy working with them because we were careful about entering into the relationship. I thought it would be good to pass along some of the things that business owners might want to consider before giving away the store!

How much excess capacity do you have?

It’s easy to get overloaded with work. Today so many things change at the last minute and if you are at maximum capacity for your time you cannot be flexible. If you promise to complete work for a non-profit and it puts you at risk for accomplishing work for paying customers you are sure to disappoint someone. Paying customers deserve what you have promised. However, I have found that non-profits will also be upset, even if they are not paying you, if you don’t make good on commitments. Be sure you have the capacity for giving time or materials before you make promises.

Is the time right?

If you have times when work spikes upwards you don’t want to use your valuable resources at that time. I generally tell non-profits that we need to do work during non-peak times of the year. Sometimes that works and they will wait for us. Other times they decline the offer. If you have products that are in demand and you donate them you risk being caught short. If you are giving away your time when paying customers are willing to pay a premium for faster service it is simply not good business. Is this the right time to make a donation? Think long and hard. In the case of the Nature Center we have lots of opportunities to capture video so we are working it into our schedule when we have downtime.

Is the end product an accurate reflection of your company?

If the non-profit is asking you to do something “on the cheap” you might want to consider passing. No matter what you do for a non-profit, in my case a video production, it is a statement about the quality of your work. If you create something that does not meet your standards for quality it can actually be detrimental to your brand.

Are you passionate about the mission of the non-profit?

I think this is critical. If you and your employees really love the mission of an organization it is a good fit and a chance to do work that “feeds your souls.” Perhaps you can do some really unusual work that you can use to showcase capabilities that you have not been able to convince paying customers to try. In the case of the Blandford Nature Center, we have had more fun shooting amazing video during all four seasons. Our employees have attended family events and experienced first-hand that this is a great cause. It’s a win-win.

Over the years, we have donated video for countless projects. Some went well, like the Blandford Nature Center. Others, to be honest were a nightmare and got off track. The difference is the approach. Today we treat interactions with non-profits just as though they were paying customers. We set a scope of work, define the hours we will spend, the approval process and the timeline. When the expectations are clear, donating our services is a joy and we also make some great contacts with potential paying customers.

The latest edition of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” features a story about the “trophy culture” of youth sports—the awarding of a trophy to any child who participates in an organized athletic activity. Actually, “participates” is too stringent a standard in one Los Angeles youth soccer organization. According to the organization’s commissioner, anyone whose name is on a roster receives a trophy at the end of the season. Interviewer: “They don’t even have to show up for the games?” Commissioner: “No, they don’t.” Why am I writing about youth sports in a space ostensibly focusing on matters of business leadership? Because I see disturbing parallels to the way the topic of employee engagement is being dealt with in too many organizations.





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