Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Sheri Cole

Business Benefits of Giving Back to the Community
by Sheri Cole, 1 Sep 2006

Sheri K. Cole is the Executive Director of The Career Wardrobe, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides free clothing and professional development seminars to assist women transition into the workforce and out of poverty. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, she lives in Center City Philadelphia and despite all the begging, thinks she has the best job in the world. She's currently looking for a volunteer web designer to redesign The Career Wardrobe's website – visit us at www.careerwardrobe.org.


As the Executive Director The Career Wardrobe, a small nonprofit organization located in Philadelphia, I often joke with people that I spend my days begging. Whether asking for money, donated clothing or free services, my job is to ask for the things that will make my organization more successful. But as any good salesperson knows, my job is only successful if both parties receive something out of the relationship.

When you receive a call from a nonprofit organization asking you to donate services or time, you might be tempted to question what's in it for you. And while the business side of your brain is right to ask this question, what I'd like to propose is that by donating your time, money or services to a nonprofit organization, you are not only being charitable, but furthering your business goals as well.

Satisfaction of giving back

Sometimes all people receive from donating to a charity is the satisfaction of knowing they are doing something good by giving back to their community. An example of this is The Career Wardrobe's clothing donors. They understand that another woman's future is hanging in their closet, and the simple act of donating a suit will make a difference in someone's life.

But, the women who clean out their closets and bring us donations of business suits and accessories know they are doing something good only when they see the end result: a woman who receives a boost to her self-confidence when she puts on her 'new' suit.

The Career Wardrobe's staff of four has the primary goal of helping the 4,000 women a year who come through our doors looking for assistance to successfully transition into the workforce and out of poverty. We don't have a budget for paid advertising, a web designer or other creative services to help us market our message.

Instead, we rely on the generosity of creative professionals who donate their time, talents and services to communicate and promote our mission to the community. But what is the benefit to these donors?

Increasing your name recognition to a new community

Certainly the creative firm who volunteers to design a logo, brochure or website for our organization doesn't see the direct social impact of their donation; the printer who prints a program book for a fundraising event doesn't see the women served.

Business Benefits of Giving Back to the Community

When The Career Wardrobe needed to find a designer to assist with branding the organization after a name change, we talked to several firms and received quotes far out of our small price range. Because we are a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help women make a positive first impression, we knew our marketing materials had to convey the same message. We needed a professional, consistent look to brand the organization in people's minds.

So instead of going with a large firm, we turned to a small, start-up firm who not only understood and supported our mission, but understood that by donating a portion or all of their services, it would help them to build their brand also.

One thing that every nonprofit organization can give an individual or firm who donates services is recognition, something that is seen by all of the nonprofit's supporters. In our case, The Career Wardrobe is happy to recognize our creative donors on our website and in our annual newsletter and e-newsletters that are sent to our growing online database of supporters.

Future business

For one donation of in-kind services, your name can be seen by potentially thousands of individuals who are supporting the nonprofit's mission, by those people who are making creative decisions for their companies. And these are the people who will lead to the final benefit of giving back to the nonprofit community: future business.

  • The design firm who donated their services five years ago when we had no marketing budget now continues to donate their time, but only a portion of it. As they have helped our organization grow, their services have become part of our fundraising budget so that we can continue our successful partnership.
  • A printer who donated a program book for our annual event was asked by a supporter to bid on a large printing job for an area university, opening the door to a major contract for his firm.
  • The photographer who donated his time and talent for our "Story of a Suit" photography exhibition continues to benefit with each showing. Additionally, a member of the project's committee hired him for a long-term assignment.

MaryAnn Smalls - Business Benefits of Giving Back to the Community

Hopefully the next time you meet someone affiliated with a nonprofit organization whose eyes light up when they realize that you have the talents they are looking for to help their mission, you will think twice about the ask and realize that there might just be a benefit to you. After all, giving is always in fashion... especially when you receive a benefit, too.

Print Article Brought to you by: Sheri Cole | Executive Director of The Career Wardrobe

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