Is the money that you’re giving to community projects making an impact?

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In the boom times when everyone was awash with cash, companies were throwing money at as many community projects as they could. That’s all changed as belts have tightened. Now there is less community investment money to go around and companies want to see proof of their return on their investment.

It might seem a bit harsh for business to talk about impacts and return on investment but donors want to know what difference their money is making.

For the small business giving a charitable contribution to a local charity it’s probably enough to know that their money is going towards feeding and supporting destitute people. How can anyone even think of finding work, even of the most menial kind, if their first priority is sustenance? We can’t ignore such desperate circumstances when so many are starving around us.

When the basic necessities or support for a person are in place, then the next area of focus is economic activity – finding employment, whatever form that may take. Businesses, even small businesses, want to know that the money they provide will at very least help someone to eventually take care of themselves.

Many larger firms have already done much work in the area of finding out and establishing what impacts their community investment money is making. Impacts could include skills training courses that were completed or that led to employment. There’s a subtle difference between an input and an impact. An input could be providing someone with a skills course or equipping someone with skills training. But the impact would be whether that input has of training has resulted in gainful employment. When you get down to it, all or most charitable for community investments are really made to get people back onto their feet and become involved in some sort of economic activity.

From the charity’s point of view, it is often difficult for them to cater to the needs of donors who make various requests and want to know what impacts the money or impacts their money is making. Monitoring and evaluation work requires additional resources and devising new programs also costs money.

A happy balance is needed between the needs of the donor to know how their money is being spent and its impact, and the needs of the charity which of necessity needs to deal with on-the–ground emergencies but at the same time needs to support the individual to find employment.

For the small business owner who wants to make a difference in the community, it would be worthwhile to meet with your chosen charity and talk about needs with a view to making a more meaningful impacts and deeper impact. Yes, you can dish out money straight to the well-established, well-supported big charity programs but taking an active part in your local community by addressing local needs will be far more enriching and valuable for you and your employees.

For those business owners who may have doubts about getting involved in local community projects rather than simply writing a cheque and getting it over and done with, remember that the contributions you make to build capacity in local communities serves to strengthen social capital. This more than anything else is so sorely needed in today’s often dysfunctional world with challenges of poverty, horrific violence, job scarcity. Simple tolerance and respect are desperately needed.

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