GlobalBiz: Should small businesses be charitable?


By Michael Muth,  GlobalBiz columnist

Last week I attended the Beyond Sport Summit, a gathering that uses sports to promote positive social change. The organization event had lots of corporate sponsors, including    Barclays Bank, United Airlines, UNICEF, Time magazine and the Chicago Tribune.

Michael Muth

But can small businesses benefit from getting involved with philanthropic organizations like BeyondSport?

Small businesses don’t have the money to spend on expensive sponsorships. Their constrained resources can t be spent on activities that won’t contribute directly to the success of the business. So should growing firms take part in charitable functions?   Some organization leaders argue that there are justifiable reasons to get involved.

Seeding a market can spur sales

Changing standards is a slow process, said Andrew Gettig, vice president, International, Connor Sport Court, a leading provider of wood and synthetic sports flooring. We sent our first Sport Court surface to St Kitts in 1990. Their enthusiasm  for the new court was palpable “ they talked about diving and sliding without hesitation and how much that meant to their game.

They had never played on anything other than asphalt and concrete, they hadn t realized how much they had been holding back. If the IHF (International Handball Federation) sends courts to the Ivory Coast and Gabon, those are going to be the nicest courts in the country, even the region, Gettig said. Those courts will host the national leagues, national team events, and continental qualifying competitions “ the biggest events that country will host in those sports. Each of these courts is a showcase, and each one becomes the new standard for the region.

We can t stay in business by selling at cost, he noted. Yet by producing an extra 100,000 units, our fixed overhead is now spread over 1.1 million units, making it lower per unit and therefore positively impacting our margins.

Positive press coverage a plus

Donating to a charitable organization can provide benefits to more than just the recipient.     Charles Griffen, one of the owners of St.Louis-based Inclusion Sports LLC, said, “We have donated our therapeutic sports game table to the RIC (Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago), the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Ranken Jorden – A Pediatric

Specialty Hospital (St. Louis), MOPD (Mayor’s Office for People with Physical Disabilities), Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and a host of other institutions that have patients in need of mental and physical therapy.

As a small business, we  have received PR from Fox News, WGN, and other media outlets which has contributed to our continued growth,” Griffen said. That paid off in exposure they otherwise would not have received.

Great Lakes Regional Games. Photo/GLASA

Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association, based in Lake Forest, Ill., has benefited from working with small businesses without having to ask them to make financial donations, said Cindy Housner, founder and executive director   In many cases, working with a sports organization provides a venue for new consumers, Housner said. Added exposure is provided by not only increased media, signage and visibility but also increased recognition of their employees being in the community and showing they care.

Creating an engaged group of fans

The Chicago Sky women’s professional basketball team is a relatively small business, especially when compared with its men’s league counterpart. Despite their comparatively meager resources, Brian Levine, director of ticket sales and service, says the team still values being a good member of the community.

Not surprisingly, the Chicago Sky focus is on helping women in athletics. They’ve initiated two programs Give Girls Game, which encourages physical activity, and Learn to Soar, which is a series of educational workshops. The result is increased ticket sales and an engaged, loyal fan base.

At first glance, it might not appear to make sense for small businesses to invest in charitable causes. But looking below the surface, there are plenty of good reasons to jump in and do good. Marketing, employee development, finance and sales efforts all can benefit.

Read more about the Beyond Sport Summit in Muth’s recent blog post,

Contributing columnist Mike Muth is managing director of gata, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies grow globally. He has more than 18 years of experience building international relationships and 16 years working for technology companies. He also has served on the boards of four nonprofits. Contact Mike at