Your CFO: What Are the Social Obligations Around Your Charitable Donations?

Silk Espresso owner, Leah McMahon

Cancer is a cause that hits close to home for Silk Espresso owner, Leah McMahon. In the ten years that she’s been in business, Leah has created a family of loyal, caring customers who share their lives with her each day over a steaming cup of coffee. So in 2008, when long-time customer and friend “Judo Jon” was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the fight became personal to Leah and her Silk Espresso family.

They took it upon themselves to create the Judo Jon Fundraiser to help Jon, his wife Dusti, and their children during the most difficult time in their lives.

“We raised money, ran errands, delivered cards and flowers and kept the family fridge full.  It was all hands on deck, no gift too small,” says the Gresham, Oregon, business owner.

Since Judo Jon passed, Leah has held several fundraisers for her Silk family members undergoing treatment for cancer – all of which received overwhelming community support.

Like Leah, most small business owners donate their time, money or services to those in need. According to a survey by, 75% of small businesses donate an average of 6% of their profits to charity.

So, what are the social obligations around these donations? What do your customers and employees think about whether you donate or how much?

  • 83% of consumers think companies should support charities and nonprofits with financial donations (Forbes).
  • 32% of employees would seriously consider leaving their job if their company gave little or no money to charity (Forbes).            

It’s pretty clear that our customers and employees believe it’s important, so what’s the best way to make it happen?

Ditch the donation jar at the counter and go for a more personal approach. Over a third of consumers hate those cash-register abushes for donations (Forbes).

Cause-marketing programs are far more effective when your employees explain why the cause is important or you offer matching funds for donations. Percentage of sales or proceeds fundraisers are also well received by customers and clients.

In January, Leah was approached by vendor Stumptown Coffee Roasters to join their fundraiser for MyMusicRx.

She jumped at the chance, “Yes! And I’d love to give 50% of our sales!”

MyMusicRx, a program by the Children’s Cancer Association, delivers bedside and online music medicine to thousands of kids facing cancer and other serious illnesses (MyMusicRx).

Once again, Leah’s Silk family came out in force to support the fundraiser, which was a huge success! On the importance of giving, Leah says:

I believe if we show up with what we have, small as it may seem, small as we may feel, it will always be enough. If we put relationships first, choosing the person over the payoff, we give our stories permission to unfold. If we root for the highest possible good in each other we make room for unexpected endings.

As business owners, we’ve been given the amazing opportunity to enact positive change in our communities through gifts of money, service, time and love. Don’t squander the opportunity – find a cause you LOVE and go for it!

Use your business as a tool to, as Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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