In 1988 I left California when I purchased a retail business — a bookstore in Santa Fe. I didn’t go into retail completely blind. My new husband had some retail background, and I specialized in communications.

The bookstore is where my marketing skills wed my inner philanthropist. By staging benefit book signing events and charity days, and aligning with nonprofits, the bookstore’s sales (which had been drooping when I bought it) increased exponentially. The Santa Fe community learned that Enchanting Land Books was on board to serve.

That was important for a small business in a community bolstered mostly by tourism. When tourism season waned, so did sales for many local businesses. But if I could manage local support, then my monthly sales could show a better balance. 

Enchanting Land Books became a safe harbor for educational, multicultural and other similar nonprofits. It worked. This store not only brought in tourists, but was a place where the local Girl Scout troop would set up for recruitments; where teachers could meet with a special author or illustrator; where the animal shelter could bring puppies and kittens up for adoption; and so on.

Managing charitable donations and business can get tricky. One can’t stay in business if one is much too generous. Business owners learn that there such things as phony causes that are enough to harden even the softest hearts. The husband’s business was in a mall. There we saw every possible scam known, including fake raffles, phony pancake breakfasts and charlatan church events. Yep. All fake. Scammers on the loose in the mall.

I mention this because it happens everywhere. This is when it’s a good idea for nonprofits to encourage their volunteers to wear insignia attire and be equipped with quality printed material proving that the volunteer is, indeed, representing a registered charity.

Fearless volunteers who take to the streets seeking business donations shared some of the comments from local retailers:

“I’m happy to donate a gift certificate. I don’t have time to give to your mission, but I can give your charity this donation.”

“I consider my donation as one way to market what I do for a living. So thank you for asking.”

“I know your charity makes a difference, and I want my business to be a part of that positive difference.”

Yes, there are those who say no and don’t come back a-knockin’. That’s OK because they may well have a single charity that they support or they may have met the tax-deductible expense for the year.

Not all businesses are set up or able to donate gift certificates, hard goods or charitable sponsorships. Other ways to let your community know that you and your business care include:

▪ Host a Volunteer Day. Pick a local nonprofit that relates or is connected to your staff. Have the staff take a day to serve that nonprofit. For instance if you have a pet-loving staff, offer to have your employees volunteer at a local animal shelter. Homeless issues: Offer to have your employees cook a special meal or treats for a homeless shelter. The opportunities are endless. Be sure to publicize your employees’ service to your customers with signage, and pictures afterwards.

▪ Distribute nonprofit event promotional material. Most fundraising efforts have promotional cards and fliers. Offer to distribute them from your business.

▪ Crowdfunding. Start up a crowdfunding page for a cause you care about. Let your community (customers) know you care.

▪ Fundraiser attendance. Have your business purchase tickets to a local nonprofit’s fundraiser. Buy tickets for your staff. Call it your “schmooze and support” effort. Of course, you’ll have plenty of business cards to pass out.

▪ Donation Day. If you can, offer your community’s nonprofits, or nonprofits that may link to your business, a Sales Percentage Donation Day. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 or 20 percent of the day’s sales, just be clear if that percentage is based on gross or net sales.

It’s by the way we give that makes a positive difference in this world. We can’t all be charitable superheroes. But we can each give in some manner, even if it’s just a smile.