partneringHave you ever wondered what advantages businesses gain from partnering with non-profits? Do you think that your business is too small to do it? Have you wondered what the benefits might be? Are looking to “give back”?

Businesses of any size can benefit from partnering with non-profits. It’s all about looking for the right fit to help you achieve your business goals as an entrepreneur or small business owner. Let me walk you through some examples.

A year ago, I became a co-founder of Best Foot Forward (BFF) after randomly responding to an ad from a woman who was looking to start a local running group for women. Having quit the gym, I decided to give it a try. The next Saturday about four of us met up at Panera Bread in Oak Park, IL. We introduced ourselves, ran a few miles, and came back for coffee and breakfast. It was great.

The next weekend the number of runners was closer to 10. Then 20. Then 30. A year later, membership has grown to almost 300 women.

During this past year, the running club has taken shape in the form of a non-profit group, aiming to become a Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) chapter. In our efforts to put a stamp on the community and garner membership, we have reached out to local businesses for support. The results have been eye-opening.

Approaching small businesses for support in the form of a BFF member discount, or a donation for our race gift bags, was something I was skeptical of. After all, we aren’t running for a charity or cause, but rather with the intent of creating a group of women runners to get out there, strap shoes on, and support each other in running, and in life.

To my surprise, most businesses were happy to support us! And, as a result, they have reaped benefits in the form of increased customer base and sales. This has been an integral part of our growth, and the businesses that have signed up with us have found that we can be a great little PR machine for them.

The small business owners that have lent us support are getting visibility, increased talking points for their marketing, and a gaining a bigger foothold in the community.

Here’s the thing…women talk. We talk during our runs. We talk on Facebook. We talk while we are talking. And we love to talk about who got what where – and about special deals.

If we feel like we have gotten a special deal or have had a good experience with a store, we want to talk about it!

Below are a few examples of how outreach on our part has benefited local merchants:

The Competitive Foot, a local running store, was a natural fit to support our group. After hearing about our club and working with us, they decided to give BFF members 15% off on all merchandise. Now with a purchase of say, a pair of shoes, this isn’t a huge savings – but it has kept our runners buying shoes locally, and spending time in their store (rather than heading to Sports Authority or clicking on Amazon). We talk about the great deals we get with pride. (P.S. – this is a store I had previously never set foot in.)

A big group of BFF runners do a Thursday evening run followed by drinks. Barclay’s American Grille offered to be the home base for these weekly outings, which brought a steady stream of BFF customers to their establishment (instead of the restaurant they had been going to just next door). Sure, Barclay’s has comped a few appetizers, but it turns out they are kid friendly too. Guess where BFF members now take their families when they want to have dinner out locally?  You got it!

Our local branch of Core Power Yoga has been extremely supportive, letting BFF members use the studio to have a class once a month with an instructor. In turn, they get the information on every attendee, and as a result have signed up memberships with women who never would have come in if they hadn’t been given the opportunity of a special class offered to just BFF members.

But it’s not just brick-and-mortar businesses who can benefit. In our group of runners there are two massage therapists, who estimate they have each added 10 new clients to their roster as a result of BFF’s word of mouth.

Back to that first meeting at Panera Bread. The Saturday morning meet-ups have continued to be held there, primarily because of the easy parking. However, we have decided to move to a local coffee shop to better support the community. Places are being tossed around now, but I can tell you this: Wherever we choose will be getting a lot more from us than breakfast on Saturdays!

What do you think? Does this spark some ideas for your small business? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.