Small Business
Make worthy contributions
November 15, 2000: 11:55 a.m. ET

Biz owners begin making contributions to charities as holiday season kicks off
By Jane Applegate
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Entrepreneurs may work eight days a week -- but it's not only for themselves and their families.

Nine out of 10 business owners (92 percent of women and 88 percent of men) contribute money to charities, compared to a giving rate of 70 percent among all U.S. households, according to a new study released by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners (NFWBO).

Although women and men have similar giving habits, the study found some interesting differences between the ways men and women view charitable contributions.

"High net worth women business owners are even more philanthropic than their male counterparts," observed Doris Meister, chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch Trust Co., which underwrote the survey conducted by NFWBO. Half of women with assets of $1 million or more contribute at least $10,000 annually to charity, compared to 40 percent of male entrepreneurs. While women and men business owners with a high net worth both volunteer an average of about 16 hours a month, 94 percent of these women, compared to 83 percent of these men, serve in leadership positions with charitable organizations.

Making a year-end contribution

With the holiday season approaching, and as year-end profit and loss calculations roll in, many business owners begin thinking seriously about making contributions to their favorite charities.

  graphic LOOK IT UP  
    There are several ways to investigate the legitimacy of a charity. One of the most useful Web sites for researching charities is, a service that looks up a charity by name and provides you with a brief description and financial profile.
"The old adage that it's better to give than to receive is never more true than during the holiday season," says Ira Almeas, vice president of sales at Impact Incentives and Meetings Inc. of East Hanover, N.J. "Our employees got together years ago and agreed that in the season of giving, let's give to those that might need it most. Our cause is the Valerie Fund, an organization that manages treatment centers for children with cancer and blood disorders."

Founded in 1976, in memory of Valerie Goldstein, the Valerie Fund is a New Jersey charity that offers support groups, a day school and free summer camp for children with cancer and blood disorders.

"We go one step further by acknowledging the gifts with greeting cards that benefit other nonprofit organizations," Almeas said. "Three years ago, one of our clients called me after receiving our holiday charity card. In tears, she informed me that her 3-year-old is a cancer patient at one of the benefited clinics."

Making a gift of time

If you can't contribute cash, you can still give your time to a favorite charity when your business is stable.

  • The IRS requires charities to make their 990 tax returns readily available, and many charities are now posting them on the Web to comply with this new law. "There's a stiff penalty if the return is not available," says Deborah Strauss of the IT Resource Center.
  • If you are asked to join a board, be sure you understand the organization's expectations. Nonprofit board members are often expected to make substantial gifts, as well as make introductions to other high-level donors.
  • Finally, in-kind donations are a great way to qualify for a tax deduction, but be careful. The responsibility for reporting the actual value of in-kind goods and services lies with the donor, not the charity.

    "A person with a growing business may have no time, energy or money to give," says Jay Goltz, CEO of Artists' Framing Service in Chicago. "If your company is on shaky ground, your first responsibility is the company," adds Goltz, who is now an active mentor and volunteer in his community.

    Although he's turned down invitations to sit on nonprofit boards because "they want money and friends with money," he serves on the board of the American Cancer Society. He volunteers and often donates in-kind services from his company -- like frames for a photo exhibit the charity produced.

    If money is tight, entrepreneurs volunteer their time to aid good causes. Shelley Seale, president of RPS, a relocation business in Cedar Hill, Texas, started her business in 1990. Seale has always been an active volunteer and continued to give her time when she went into business for herself.

    "Time is just as or more valuable than money," she said.

    Seale manages a program called Girls Who Dare, which introduces girls to the concept of business ownership during meetings held once a week over an eight-week period.

    "When I was starting out, it never occurred to me that I could fail," Seale said. "But a lot of these girls come from families that tell them they can't be anything or do anything."

    Employees get involved

    Seale's company also started the Making a Difference Fund in 1996, which donates 10 percent of her company's profits to charity. Her employees, who can adjust their schedule to volunteer and are encouraged to do volunteer work on company time, also decide which charities will receive funds.

    A happy result of her philanthropy has been the hiring of two top employees. They actually sought her out after learning about her company's commitment to charitable work.

    "Our work has attracted good publicity," Seale said. "People get to see what I'm doing in the community."

    Marilyn Heise, president of Heartfelt Greetings, Northfield, Ill., the card company that sells cards to Impact Incentives and Meetings Inc., says businesses often buy her cards to use for bonus checks, holiday greetings and thank yous. "It's good for their image and marketing," says Heise, who has a background in marketing. "It presents them as caring."

    This time of year, entrepreneurs are bombarded with requests for contributions by all sorts of organizations. Be sure to do some research before making a donation.

    "There are about six charities out there called the '(something) cancer society,'" but only one is the American Cancer Society," said Deborah Strauss, executive director of the IT Resource Center in Chicago, Ill., a nonprofit organization that provides technical support and advice to other nonprofit organizations. She said they are focusing more attention on soliciting donations from small businesses because big corporate mergers tend to reduce local big business support for charities.

    While you should deduct the true market value of your donation, be able to back up your claims with solid documentation in case the IRS questions the deductions. graphic

    Jane Applegate, a syndicated columnist and author of 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business, covers small business for CNNfn. "Succeeding in Small Business" appears on on Wednesdays.


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