How small businesses can support their communities

Small businesses are at the heart of every community. Though business owners usually rely on the community for support, now, it's your turn. As a small business owner, chances are you know your customers, their needs, and their worries...and right now, you can help them.

Right now, it may seem difficult to give back - but with some creativity, there's actually a lot that you can do. We've been inspired by small businesses donating meals, raising funds, spreading positive vibes, and shifting production priorities to aid frontline workers and those affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

If you want to help, but don't know where to start, take a cue from these real businesses who are making a difference in their communities.

Donate a meal.

Food is a universal language - and a thoughtfully-prepared meal is a guaranteed way to put a smile on someone's face. If you run an eatery or food-centric business of any kind, consider starting a meal donation program for frontline workers or at-risk members of your community.

Johnny Burke, owner of Johnny's Takeaway, recently launched his own 'Feed the Frontline' program. Customers can purchase a package of 10 meals to be donated to Boston-area hospital employees. Offering a program like this, in addition to new take-out and delivery services, has been a way for Johnny to keep employees busy.

Never Coffee Lab, a whimsical cafe in Portland, OR, started donating coffee to area hospitals so frontline workers can have "a little something special in their break rooms." A low-cost gesture like this goes a long way, and as an added bonus, can build goodwill toward your business in the long run - it's kind of like making a good first impression.

Donating a meal doesn't have to be for humans - Viera Petworks is helping people in the service industry who can no longer afford pet food.

If you're looking for an organization to donate food to, here are some great options for restaurateurs:

Shift your production priorities.

In the past weeks, businesses in many industries have quickly shifted their product offerings. Whether it's a fashion brand producing protective gear or a distillery brewing batches of hand sanitizer, we're so inspired by the small businesses that continue to show up for their communities.

Fabrizia Spirits in Salem, NH, started making hand sanitizer to combat the shortage, and donated the finished product to hospitals, frontline personnel, and fire and police stations. This was a quick shift from their usual production of limoncello and ready-to-drink cocktails, and was so appreciated by their community. Hometown Brew Co. in Ontario also went the hand sanitizer route - they donated a batch to an area assisted living facility, and are now offering travel-sized bottles for sale with every beer order.

Many small businesses with apparel backgrounds have started producing face masks and protective gear. Lotuff Leather, a brand in Providence, RI, makes everything from pocketbooks to pet collars - and now, they've repurposed their studio to make personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and bandana-inspired fabric face masks that are for sale and donation.

Jess Ekstrom, the founder of Headbands of Hope, has been on Vistaprint's podcast and started her business to give back - and she's continuing to do just that. They've halted production of headbands to make and donate over 50,000 surgical masks to hospitals, and they're also selling protective facial gear like tube turbans.

Speaking of headbands, The Cue, a women's boutique, started a Headbands of Hope program that makes button headbands for hospital workers. Owner Lindsay Reilly partnered with a family business in her area to ramp up production, and she takes contributions over Venmo to donate the finished product to local hospitals. She writes on The Cue's website, "After talking to nurses on the frontline, one common feedback was their ears hurt from wearing masks on each long shift. These headbands alleviate the pain caused by the straps on your ear, instead wrapping around a button."

If your business has the equipment to make helpful products, are you able to adjust your processes? Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • If you specialize in skincare, prioritize (or start making!) a soothing product. Face/Food is donating their healing salve to frontline workers who wear uncomfortable masks all day.
  • If you work with fabric or apparel, consider shifting gears to face-mask production.
  • If you usually make any kind of alcoholic product, look into adding hand sanitizer to your product line.

Spread some love.

You can support your community without spending a lot of money - your time and energy can be just as valuable.

Antea Amoroso, a designer who specializes in hand-lettered signage and goods, started Lettering for Love, a project that adds free calligraphy to local storefronts. She uses temporary paint to leave positive messages on the windows of now-shuttered storefronts.

On her website, she writes, "This is my way of giving back to a community that has supported me and continues to do so. I want to help local businesses that could use some complimentary love on their window during days they wish they could be open."

As weddings, graduations, and other celebrations get postponed, photographers may find themselves with clearer-than-usual calendars. What can you do with your newfound free time to give back to your community?

#TheFrontStepsProject has nearly 30,000 posts on Instagram. Photographers all over the world have started photographing people (and their pets!) on their front porch or steps from a safe social distance. Instead of a typical portrait fee, many of these photographers are asking for a donation instead.

Ready to give back? Here are some ideas for getting started:

  • If you're a landscaper, plant (or tend to) a community garden or public park
  • If you're a graphic designer, offer your services to your city's Chamber of Commerce
  • If you're a florist, leave small bouquets at the doorsteps of healthcare workers
  • If you're a cab or limo driver, offer to drive elderly or disabled community members to doctors appointments, the pharmacy, or the grocery store
  • If you're a personal shopper or professional organizer, go grocery shopping for someone who is at-risk in your community

Raise funds.

If your business is still up and running, consider donating a portion of your profits. There are a lot of ways to do this:

  • Donate a percentage of all profits. Right now, Mustard Beetle Handmade, an online textile shop, is donating 20% of proceeds to food banks in Los Angeles.
  • Dedicate a product for fundraising purposes. Inspired Oasis, a candle and soap shop on Instagram, created a new "Namaste" candle, and is donating 20% of this product's sales to a local food bank.
  • Provide an incentive to donate. Domenic's Bakery, an Italian take-out operation, is donating gift cards to anyone who orders food for frontline workers or elderly community members.
  • Ask for a donation at checkout. When someone places an order online, give them the option to donate a small amount to a charity of your choice.
  • Use social media to ask for a donation. Instagram recently rolled out stickers that businesses can add to their Stories, and link to a fundraiser on Facebook.

Related articles

7 crisis communication tips for small businesses

How to stay connected with customers in an authentic way.

Read more

4 tips for staying relevant.

How to shift your content plan
Read more