Why Small Businesses are Worthwhile Causes for Big Businesses

small business cause marketingBy Geri Stengel

Recently, I was taken to task for writing that small businesses are a “cause” that large corporations should take on.

I was chided on the grounds that cause-marketing is, by definition, a partnership between a for-profit and non-profit. Small businesses aren’t nonprofits, hence they don’t qualify as a cause.

But they do. Here’s why.

The “cause” in cause marketing shouldn’t be the nonprofit; it should be the problem the nonprofit is trying to solve: homelessness, cancer, unmotivated or uneducated young people, inadequate health care. And why do we want to take care of homeless people, cure cancer or give young people adequate skills to be productive?

The no-brainer answer is, of course, that it is the right thing to do. It’s what the social contract is all about.

The deeper answer is that we want to build and live in strong communities, communities where we are safe, where we have back-up when our pantry is empty, where we can buy the goods and services we need, and come together with other people.

Non-profits address these concerns in various ways, from soup kitchens to after-school programs, from health-care to arts programs. But the cause is building the community, not supporting the non-profit for the heck of it.

Thriving small businesses build communities and solve problems, too. If people have decent jobs, they can put a roof of some kind over their heads. They (and the businesses that employ them) pay the taxes that support schools and hospitals. Small businesses sell groceries, clothes, eyeglasses, legal and laundry services, the stuff people need to get by day in and day out.

The value of small businesses to our communities has been emphasized in both public policy and private corporate action. Think American Jobs Act, StartUp America, American Express Small Business Saturday, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses.

From the CEO of GE to the President of the United States, people get that thriving small businesses can forestall the problems that non-profits are called upon to fix. They are preventive.

Just like non-profits. Some problems are better addressed by non-profits, some are begging for a business answer.

So I am unrepentant. I still think small businesses are a cause that big business should support. Doing so is a win-win for society and for big business. And even for nonprofits, who may have their workloads eased if communities are stronger.


Geri Stengel is founder of Ventureneer, which connects values-driven small business owners with the knowledge they need to make the world a better place and to thrive as businesses. You can learn new skills, collaborate with peers, develop solutions to your real-world problems, get one-on-one help from experts, and access the information you need to make better decisions for your organization.

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One response

  1. I agree that small businesses are key, but I find it difficult to imagine how another business is going to want to support them…I suppose as long as they are not competition, then yes, they would.

    Also, please reconsider using Jeffry Immelt and President Obama as people who understand small business in this way. Our president has done literally nothing to support small businesses, or any business other than his chosen winners, like GE and Solyndra (oops). Meanwhile the CEO of GE Jeffry Immult is taking his companies business to China and isn’t paying ANY federal taxes.

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