Bruce Zaretsky isn't a veteran, but as the owner of Macedon, New York's Zaretsky and Associates, Inc., a national award-winning landscaping firm, he immediately got out his checkbook when he heard about the poor care that wounded veterans were said to be receiving at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Such acts are common at Zaretsky's company, where charity helps define the firm and the people who work there. In contrast to people who do charity work because it makes them feel good, Zaretsky gives out of a belief that he is obligated as a small business owner to give back to the community that helped make him so successful.
Time, Zaretsky believes, is often a much more precious gift than money, so he was more than happy to oblige when he was approached by a nonprofit mental health center in his hometown of Rochester, New York to work on a courtyard garden project. He dedicated at least 100 hours to the project and was also able to get his vendors to donate all of the necessary supplies.
He admits that he got a little carried away with the design. "I got to a certain portion of the project and I told myself that I couldn't leave it like that," Zaretsky said. "The original plan was just to do a water-type feature in the garden, but I thought that there really needed to be some plants added, so I talked to some of my suppliers to see what they could spare."
Zaretsky is not alone in believing that small business owners can make a difference by doing something positive for the community. According to the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index, eight out of 10 small business owners said they believe their efforts benefit the communities they serve more than their own business. More than half said they do something to give back because they personally enjoy the activity.
Many small businesses recognize that in addition to promoting change and growth inside a company, encouraging employees to volunteer also enhances the company's visibility and reputation. "I can tell you that participating in charity has truly had a positive effect on our bottom line," said Lisa Owens, vice president of San Antonio-based advertising agency Regnier, Valdez & Associates. "We got about 10 strong prospective client calls when people read about us giving back to community organizations. We actually had five of our clients come out to one of the events that we held for a local charity."
To celebrate their 20th anniversary, employees of Owens' company chose to devote their time to four different charitable organizations. The group voted to clean and landscape a local park, host a pet adoption day, hold a party for the children at a local school for the deaf, and work on a house for Habitat for Humanity."We wanted to do something fun that would involve our entire staff without necessarily having a big, lavish party," Owens said. "The activities that we chose were hands-on and we didn't need to have specific skills to accomplish them."
Owens added that because they lack the deep pockets of much larger companies, they tried to do things that involved their time, effort, and talents. For example, when a local organization had their media relations partner back out of one of their big events, Regnier, Valdez & Associates was able to step in. "Helping them didn't cost us anything but our time," Owens said.
Getting involved in a charity this year shouldn't be a burden on your company. Entrepreneurs like Zaretsky are challenging business owners to give back in whatever way they can, no matter their size. "I am in no way Bill Gates, but I'm also not starving," he said. "I'm just this little guy out there, but I feel in my own way that I need to do my part."
This article was written by Lynn Celmer, managing editor of America's Best magazine. It originally appeared on www.evancarmichael.com.