Helping charities in your local community can be a truly positive endeavor for a middle market firm during the holiday season (or at any other time of year). Not only will you build goodwill for your business, but you'll also help people in need. If you can host a community-wide event or partner with a client for a charitable goal, you'll make a tangible difference in people's lives while building relationships with other local businesses.

Find a way to work with charities to make a real difference in your community.

Before jumping into an opportunity, however, you need to ensure your project will have the greatest impact possible. Here are some tips for making the most out of your charitable endeavors.

Writing a Check Isn't Enough Anymore

The days of simply writing a check to your favorite charity are long over. The public is becoming increasingly charity minded and, at the same time, skeptical about the motives behind charitable giving. When it comes to charitable philanthropy, a one-time monetary gift offers few long-term benefits to the donor or the charity. As a middle market company whose purse strings are tighter than those of a large enterprise, you need to get the most out of your donations. If you want to make the greatest impact, both in your community and within your company, you'll need to do more than just send money.

Donate to Causes Your Clients Are Pursuing

Rather than simply choosing your favorite causes, look for charities your clients or customers are already involved with. Middle market companies rely on close relationships with their customers, so demonstrating a tangible interest in the same charitable causes as your clients can be a great way to strengthen your relationships. When your customers know you're interested in the same charities, their loyalty might just skyrocket.

Help in Ways Directly Related to Your Firm's Strengths

When choosing your corporate philanthropy project, look for ways to use your company's strengths to meet a need in your community. For example, when Cisco Systems was a middle market firm in the 1990s, its local offices partnered with elementary schools to mentor students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Cisco later provided fully networked computer labs to schools. This early philanthropy built momentum that created loyal customers, and that loyalty continues to this day. Look at your own firm's strengths and areas of expertise. Do any of them match needs in your community?

Do Your Due Diligence First

Before jumping in with a charity, do your due diligence. A bad decision can have strong consequences for a midmarket firm. For example, a Canadian clothing chain called Holt Renfrew didn't conduct due diligence before joining a cause marketing campaign. It sold plush toys to help OrphanAid Africa in 2012, but skipped doing the research that would have informed it that the charity wasn't even registered in Canada. The charity also didn't reveal what percentage of its sales would go to the cause. To avoid this type of mistake, follow some of the tips Charity Navigator offers: Research how a charity was prescreened and see if it is transparent about how it uses donations. Read reviews about the charity's and other people's experiences.

Ideas to Get You Started

Now that you know some of the best methods for charitable giving, brainstorm ideas that match your firm's mission with your community's needs. Here are several suggestions to get the creative juices flowing:

  • Host a community charity event. Host a community-wide event to help the people in your area who are less fortunate, and tie it into the holiday season or another holiday during the year. A turkey giveaway is one possibility.
  • Sponsor a family for the holidays. Sponsor a local family who doesn't have enough money to purchase Christmas gifts, or give away airline miles so someone can see their family for the holidays. Peter Shankman, a public relations expert, gives away his accrued airline miles every December to help a few people visit their loved ones.
  • Host a pet-adoption drive. Does your firm work with animals, or do you have a client who's passionate about helping no-kill shelters? Consider helping an animal shelter host a pet-adoption drive.
  • Mentor students. If your company has expertise in a topic that can help students prepare for their future, offer to partner with local schools to start a mentoring program.

Participating in charitable giving is a great way to make a name for your middle market company, but you must do your research first and make sure the cause matches your company's mission and your customers' passions.

Is your firm participating in a charitable program? Do you have a success story or cautionary tale? Share your experiences below, along with any charitable programs you've found to be particularly worthwhile.

Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an NCMM contributor and publicist, journalist and attorney whose work has been featured by Businessweek, Newsmax and other national publications. She regularly reports on breaking news and business for Heavy, and she writes a monthly column for the American Bar Association. Stephanie is often sought by companies to consult on publicity, marketing and business development. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.