When we weren’t feeling fulfilled in our corporate jobs, we knew we were tired of working for someone else, but we were also looking for more ways to get involved with our community. We had become those typical working Americans who close our garage doors after coming home from work and don’t emerge to connect with the people around us, and we wanted to change that. So, we decided to not only take the leap into small business ownership, but to start a business that allowed us to be more deeply involved in our community through charitable efforts.
That’s a big part of why we decided to open a Dogtopia franchise. In addition to being a premier dog daycare brand that allowed us to tap into our lifetime love of pets, Dogtopia has a foundation that helps franchisees support three major causes, all with the overarching goal of enabling dogs to positively change the world. We help fund service dog training for military veterans. We support children’s literacy by helping fund SitStayRead, a program that provides service dogs for kids to practice reading to. And, we support employment opportunities for adults with autism by encouraging franchises to hire them and giving the business owners training and tools to make it a positive work environment.
We achieve our fundraising goals (which we set with guidance from the foundation) in big and small ways, from throwing at least one event per month to having a treat machine in our lobby that collects donations. No matter what, 100 percent of the proceeds of these efforts always go toward our causes—all time and monetary costs related to fundraising are taken on by franchise owners like us. In our case, that amounts to about 20 hours and $200 a month put toward our charitable initiatives.
Some business owners may cringe at the additional cost and workload, but we’ve actually found that giving people a cause to rally around has been instrumental to our success, helping us reach $1 million in annual revenue within just a few years of opening. Here are just a few ways integrating charitable giving has opened new doors for our business.
It Gives Us a Point of Differentiation
Perhaps most obviously, we’ve found that charitable initiatives can strike a chord with people who may otherwise see us as just another business, ultimately setting us apart from competitors.
When somebody walks through the door, you never know where they’re coming from. In our case, they may have someone in their family who is on the spectrum. Maybe they’re a veteran or care about someone who is. Or maybe their kids struggle with reading. We’ve had numerous customers who were considering multiple daycares in the area but were sold on us after they learned about the impact we’re making on issues they care about.
This only works if you choose causes that mean something to your customers and that are different from what other similar businesses may champion. Many dog-related businesses support shelters, and while that’s obviously an important and worthy cause, we’ve noticed a lot of customers are impressed that we’re willing to wrap our arms around other issues that affect pet parents.
It Gives Us Something More Meaningful to Market
Having a charitable aspect to our business has also been a great way to market to the community without feeling like we’re constantly in sales mode. Instead, we get to champion causes that many people care about.
For instance, we’ll regularly mix up our more sales-oriented social media posts with ones sharing updates on our latest charitable efforts. The events we throw are partially for marketing and providing an exciting experience for our customers, but we’ll also have a fundraising aspect that brings a lot of people in the door. When we give tours, talking about the impact we’re having (in addition to our wonderful services and amenities) helps build rapport. And it’s great to be able to have a tent at community events that isn’t just about pushing brochures or promotions, but about sharing the work we’re doing.
We always find ourselves feeling better about what we do when we’re telling someone about the charitable initiatives we’re working on. It makes it clear to them that we don’t just see dollar signs on four legs walking through the door, but that we’re passionate about the bigger impact that we’re making.
It Helps Our Customers Feel Connected to Our Success
You’d be surprised at the interaction and engagement that you get from customers when they don’t feel like they’re just paying you for a service but that they’re working with you toward a common goal. We’ve found that excitement around the impact we’re having not only keeps customers coming back, but pushes them to be more deeply involved in our business.
One of our favorite examples of this is when one customer—a veteran who served on the district board of the American Legion—learned about our fundraiser to sponsor our first service dog for other veterans. He asked how far we were from our goal, then used his own time and political capital to go back and talk to the American Legion about our cause. They ended up writing us a generous check for $1,500, which got us nearly to our goal. When we were fundraising for our next service dog, he found out we were $800 short and brought us another $1,500 check from the American Legion to get us to our goal and get started on the next fundraiser. Now, the larger Dogtopia Foundation is talking to the network of American Legions across the country about a partnership, all because of one dedicated customer who took the time to help our cause. (And, this whole time, he continued bringing his dogs to daycare with us!)
That’s not the sort of thing that happens with a standard business relationship. When customers feel like they’re not a transaction but instead a crucial part of a bigger impact, it allows them to develop deeper relationships with us and with the business.
It Makes Us More Excited About Our Work
All of the benefits above really just feel like cherries on top when we think about the biggest benefit of giving back as part of our business: It makes us and our team more excited to go to work every day.
When we were at our corporate jobs, we were barely a part of our community, and our son probably thought working meant staring at a computer screen all day. Now, we’re not only engaged with our community, but we get to demonstrate how work can have a tangible and positive impact on the lives of others. It makes us feel so excited about what we’re doing, even on days when the realities of owning a business are challenging. This is true for our employees, too: It’s a tough labor market right now, and giving our team something to feel proud of helps them feel better about the work they’re doing.
In our mind, it comes down to this: If business is just business, why do we do it all the time? We all have to make money, but when you feel good about what you do as well, it makes a huge difference in how you feel day after day.
Owning a small business is tough, and a lot of business owners are hesitant to add the responsibility of charitable giving on top of everything else. But, after seeing the impact it’s had, we really encourage other business owners to give it a try. Start small with one cause, one fundraiser, and go from there. Whether you see it as a marketing strategy or something that will make you feel more excited about your work, it will almost certainly lead to more success.