By Julie Shrum

Small businesses have a lot to gain when they pay it forward in their local communities. It’s a touchy subject for some, but most people really do want to make the world a better place — especially the communities they live in. So, here’s how to do that.

Build Respect and a Reputation in Your Community

Building respect is no easy task. A company’s leader or leaders need to reach out to existing organizations and ask what they can do to help. Then take targeted efforts to contribute to the community.

This will not only endear you to your community but it will get your name out there. People will become more familiar with you and, by that fact alone, you will become more trustworthy. Relationships formed in this way also tend to be of great value to your company.

When businesses help others, those people want to support the company in return for their kindness and generosity.

Consider It a Reserve of Goodwill

An example of a company that has done a good job of this is Facebook. When the company moved its operations to the old Sun Microsystems campus in Menlo Park, people in the community were concerned about the influx of people and what it would do to the city’s infrastructure. Facebook became proactive and spent millions of dollars improving bike trails to reduce traffic impacts from all of the new workers coming into and out of the area every day.

The company also donated $120 million to schools in and around the campus. It was more than just publicity, though. Facebook wanted to become part of the community, and its actions had a real and lasting impact on the city.

Make Your Community a Better Place to Live

Maybe you don’t have $120 million just laying around. That’s OK. You don’t need it to make your community a better place to live. Giving back to the community you live in doesn’t have to consist of making grand gestures. Sometimes, little things help.

Companies like Midlake know this better than most. While it is one of the most important exporters in the country, it also recognizes its place in Louisville, Ohio. It’s an activer giver, going so far as to setting up The Louisville Community Cupboard, to which its employees donate their precious time helping the community.

The company also makes monetary contributions, including new computers and equipment for local schools, preschools and after-school programs.

Do Good Things

Doing good for your community often starts in-house. How are your employer-employee relations? If your company’s culture isn’t conducive to giving back, your employees won’t. Do you have programs in place to help your employees volunteer in the community? Do they feel encouraged by you? Are you setting a good example?

Build Connections and Network

Philanthropy can open doors to the world’s richest and most powerful people. The people you know determine what you can get done in the business world and what opportunities you can take advantage of. Start giving, and attend social functions where these people congregate. Network. Socialize. Open opportunities for yourself and your company.

How do you pay it forward in your community?