Tabitha Lovett, chief executive, Besen Family Foundation

Small business giving big

Small business in Australia is fuelling the nation’s philanthropy efforts more than what you may realise.

Charity collection boxes are a familiar sight at our local businesses. We happily drop our coins and small notes into buckets and boxes to support the charity that they are promoting.

It’s a great way to remind us to give as we go about our day-to-day lives and to support projects both local and international, which will help those in need.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to small business philanthropy.

The 2016 Giving Australia Report revealed that in 2015-16, Australian businesses gave $17.5 billion to charities and not-for-profits (NFP), an impressive increase of $14.2 billion in a decade.

What’s worth noting is that $8.5 billion of that $17.5 billion came from small and medium businesses, with 70 per cent of all small and medium businesses making a contribution to charity.

Christian Porter, Minister for Social Services who launched the Giving Report commented that the “figures show that small businesses in particular are very much a part of their local communities, whether it’s contributing directly to a local sporting club or seniors group with financial contributions to bigger community-focused activities like building a new community hall”.

Of the $17.5 billion in business philanthropy in 2015-16 nearly half — $7.7 billion — came from community partnerships, $6.2 billion was the result of donations, and $3.6 billion came from non-commercial sponsorships.

These figures show that small businesses are doing more than just collecting coin donations. Some business owners are supporting charities and NFPs more deeply and donating a percentage of their profits to charity, matching their customers’ donations dollar-for-dollar, holding fundraising events, or providing pro bono (free) goods and services on an ongoing basis to help charities fundraise or deliver their much-needed services.

And the ways in which small business support charities is just as varied as the small business sector itself.

There are restaurants, cafes and local supermarkets donating unused food each day to food recycling charities to turn into free meals for the homeless; businesses offering pro bono legal, accounting, audit and governance advice to charities; and all those freebies that make up charity auctions and raffle prizes.

Philip Dalidakis, Victorian Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade noted that often small businesses are unaware that their support for local charities counts as business philanthropy.

“Small businesses are vital to local communities and often very well connected to them. Whether it is providing in kind support for a local school fête, sponsoring sporting clubs or helping out with other local community groups, small businesses are often practising philanthropy without even knowing it. And our community is better off for it,” he said.

These partnerships benefit both the business and the charity. Giving back is rewarding and customers appreciate a business which is socially responsible. In the Giving Australia report small businesses most often cite their giving is driven by a desire to give back to the community in which they operate and profit.

Increasingly, we are also seeing entrepreneurs building a philanthropic focus into their business plans — whether that is donating a percentage of profits to a chosen cause, supporting local charities in the area from which they source their products, reviewing their suppliers’ social responsibility credentials or establishing their own charitable foundation to enable an ongoing, long-term giving strategy.

As small businesses become more creative in finding ways to meet their customers’ needs — so too do their ‘giving’ initiatives.

One boutique distillery in Port Melbourne recently decided to auction its first cask of whisky to raise funds for a charity which helps disengaged youth train for jobs in hospitality. Rather than sell it in one batch they decided to auction just a few bottles of the vintage each year to build its value amongst collectors and increase the proceeds for the charity.

For small business owners considering how to build a giving strategy, the following questions can help guide their thinking around the best strategy to employ:

1. Which charities do you want to support? Are you drawn to support a cause that aligns with your business’ purpose, or one with which you have a personal connection, or do you want to support a local charity or NFP to demonstrate commitment to the community in which you operate?

2. Do you want to give cash donations, fund raise on the charity’s behalf or, offer pro bono goods or services?

3. Have you considered structuring your giving to maximise tax benefits? Donations over $2 to a charity or NFP which is endorsed by the ATO as a deductible gift recipient (DGR) are tax deductible.

4. Have you considered establishing your own charitable foundation or sub-fund with a Public Ancillary Fund to receive your donations and distribute income year-on-year to the charities of your choice? Increasingly, businesses are establishing their own sub-funds with Public Ancillary Foundations so they can name the fund after their business aligns its purpose to their brand and build and invest the funds donated to generate greater amounts of income each year.

5. Do you want to involve staff and offer workplace giving or volunteer opportunities?

When deciding on what causes or charity to support there is no right or wrong answer.

The Giving Australia Report 2016 findings confirmed that education and research received the greatest financial support from business receiving 22 per cent of all total business giving, followed by culture and recreation (19 per cent), social service and health (12 per cent).

For small business owners, the enjoyable aspect of creating a giving strategy is to deepen their knowledge of the charities in their area and to create their own philanthropic legacy. They can also use their business philanthropy to inspire other businesses to do the same.

When deciding how best to support charities here are some tips to consider to inform your giving strategy:

1. Ask the charities you wish to support what they need and when?

2. Find out which charities are best placed to achieve your philanthropic goal. For instance, if you have been motivated to act in response to a disaster event such as floods or bushfires — make sure the charities to which you donate goods have the capacity to distribute to those affected.

3. Involve your staff, family or other local businesses. When deciding which charity to support you can consult with your staff, family or other businesses in your area and inspire them to become involved.

4. Be clear with customers about how you are supporting the charity of your choice and be transparent about what their donation will support. With charitable giving becoming more popular it is important to maintain customer confidence and not allow business philanthropy to be seen as a marketing ploy.

Most importantly, enjoy developing a giving strategy and finding out more about the charities that operate in your local area. Picking the right charity and strategy is important so research the charities, their track record and look to other small businesses already involved in giving for ideas and inspiration.

Tabitha Lovett, chief executive, Besen Family Foundation

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