Giving Back is the Best Marketing Strategy (just don’t go overboard)

Red Wagon plant sale this spring benefits local community garden program.

Need to get your name out to potential customers? Hoping to create a media buzz about your business? Want to generate good will in your community? It’s all possible — and it may be easier and less expensive than you think. Just look for ways that your business can be a “good citizen”. Find a need in your community that you are uniquely qualified to do something about and then set out an action plan for getting it done.  Any type of business can find ways to give back but agricultural businesses can often do this without straying too far from their business mission.

Giving back to your community is one of the very best ways that you can put your core values to work and reap some great marketing rewards at the same time. On the other hand it is common to find farm businesses who do so much and give so freely of their time and products that their generosity becomes more than the business can afford.  There is a balance between giving too little and giving too much. It is up to you to find that sweet spot and incorporate it into your marketing plan.

Putting a community face on your business doesn’t have to be expensive or excessively time-consuming. It does require planning and forethought however.

Tips for success

  • Start small. It is way more effective to promise a small effort and deliver more than you promised than it is to promise more than you can deliver.
  • Make your effort consistent with your business.The more connected the two are the more success you’re likely to have and the less time and money it will cost.
  • Have a written contract that spells out what your role will be and what the role of others will be.
  • Document the event with photos, videos, quotes, etc. Then integrate these materials into your business promotion materials.
  • Do not wait for someone else to recognize your contribution. While it is nice when it happens, don’t let your work go unappreciated–post some photos on your website, put an article in your newsletter, send a press release to the local paper.
  • Make the contribution a genuine gift. If your effort isn’t sincere it will show through and diminish the final impact.
  • Make sure you have all the necessary permits in place and everyone involved understands where any liability rests.
  • Don’t commit others (even employees) without getting their permission first.

Where to start?

Look around your community for an opportunity. They are everywhere! A fundraiser for a worthy cause where you could donate a CSA share. A public space in your community that could use a little landscaping.  A benefit breakfast that could use a donation of some product. A fund-raiser held on your farm for a community organization. A flat of annuals to perk up the front of the library or town hall. Help a local school plant a garden or deliver a couple bouquets of flowers to a senior center.

When it is time to say “no”

It is possible to get carried away and over-commit to community service projects. That is why it is a good idea to build your community giving into your business plan. That way you will know what you can, and what you cannot, agree to. If you have a plan in place it will also make it easier to say “no” when the need arises. No one really likes to say ‘no’, especially when the one asking is a friend, a family member…or a really good customer! Here are a few tips that can help saying ‘no’ be a little more comfortable.

  • Be clear. If the answer is ‘no‘ then say ‘no‘, not ‘maybe‘ or ‘let me think about it‘. Anything other than a clear ‘no‘ can (and will) be misinterpreted to ‘I think she’s going to do it!’
  • Make it clear that you appreciate being considered. After all it is an honor that someone thought of you for this project so a simple acknowledgment is the least you can do.
  • If you would consider doing something at another time say so. “We can’t do anything more this year but in the future if you could get to us in January we might be able to get it on our calendar.”
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About Mary Peabody

Working with beginning farmers since 1994.
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