Tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your involvement

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Community involvement isn’t just good for your soul; it’s also good for your business. Potential clients are more likely to support a business involved in the community.

So, how do you make the most of your charity involvement?

The key, says Shauna Baty, president of The Business Block, is to build a relationship with the organization you’re getting involved with.

First, make an appointment to discuss your involvement. This will help you balance the organization’s needs with your ability to give. Baty recommends working with the organization for at least one year. The organization can better count on your involvement, and it will help balance your commitment more effectively.

Ask for permission to put a link to their homepage on your website. Ask if, and how, you are able to use their logo. Some organizations are understandably very cautious; make sure you know their rules before using their name, and get it in writing.

Include your charitable involvement in your marketing materials, such as press releases, newsletters, brochures – even emails.

Baty has noticed links to charitable organizations after the signature on business email. “Click here to learn more about my favourite charity,” is a clever way to show off your involvement and promote the organization.

“It’s a non-invasive way, but one that’s noticeable, and seeing it makes you feel good,” says Baty.

It’s an easy way to invite people to learn about your cause(s) without pushing – but put your company information first. The charity link should be below your signature and company information.

Every business needs an “about us” page on their website, and this is the perfect place to discuss your charity involvement in detail. “It’s a real touchy-feely page,” says Baty.

Focus on aspects that first drew you into working with the charity. Be sure to include photos, their logo, and key information about them. A link to the charity’s page is a no-brainer.

Consider how much you’re comfortable sharing. After all, you’re speaking to potential clients. If, say, you’re involved with a fundraiser because a loved one suffered from the disease, you may want to focus on how her positive outlook inspired you, or how much you enjoy working with the organization, and not the particulars of the illness.

Sponsoring an event is an option, but sometimes cost-prohibitive. Contests with a portion of the proceeds go toward charity are a great way to get your name out, says Baty. They provide an opportunity to reach potential clients directly.

If you offer a service, consider adding the charity logo to your business card, says Baty. If you offer a product, be sure to add information about your charity when you send it.
Ask the charity to include you in their marketing, especially if you’re dedicated to one specific area, and have contributed substantial time and/or money.

If you’re looking for a unique option, Baty says starting a scholarship is a great way to help students with education costs. This also promotes awareness of your company to a larger group.

Don’t be afraid to be creative and use your actual time volunteering to promote your company. Working with other volunteers is a great way to build relationships and social networks.

Finally, sneak a peek at what other companies are doing to promote their contributions. Don’t be afraid to incorporate their ideas.

Consumers want to support a company that’s about more than just profits. They want to see successful companies involved in the community.

It’s not vanity to let them see your heart’s in the right place – that you’re working to make a difference.

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In Canada charitable organizations are required to register with the Canadian Revenue Agency. Upon approval they will be granted a registration number, and this number will appear on any charitable receipts you receive. All registration numbers are listed on Canada Revenue Agency’s website.

In the U.S., determining the authenticity of a charity is a bit more difficult. However, every non-profit is required to submit an IRS 990 form. Request the organization send you a copy of the latest IRS 990 Form, as it will show the breakdown of how the charity divides the funds it receives. If they are unwilling to send you a copy you will have to dig a bit deeper into their operations, or move on and consider a different organization.

The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance and the American Institute of Philanthropy are charity watchdogs. These organizations provide listings of non-profit organizations, along with ratings, on their websites.

Don’t forget to add a comment below–we love to hear from you!

Blog, Inc.: The Next Big Thing Part 3

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Jennifer James, founder of the mombloggersclub.com and themomsalon.com

By creating one of the largest social networks on the web, blogger and social media expert Jennifer James helps moms connect through the Mom Blogger’s Club.

James, a mother of two, began blogging in 2006 for ClubMom (now CafeMom.) As a freelance writer, blogging opened up a portal where she was able to write about everything from parenting to politics.

As she became more involved in the blogosphere, she realized there was a need for a central community where mom bloggers could gather.  In 2007 she created the mombloggersclub.com.  It’s now one of the largest social networks on the web.

“At last count there were 7,600 members,” she says modestly.

Alexa.com, a traffic measurement website, ranks Mom Bloggers Club at 9,575 – an impressive showing among millions of websites vying for traffic.

The focus is on the community and building relationships with other mom bloggers through the club.

“I never really had a business plan for it,” she admits, “it’s basically hit or miss.”

She still blogs through themomsalon.com, but today James spends more of her time in social media.

“I’m a hybrid,” she laughs, “I’m a community creator, a digital mom, an iPhone mom, or whatever.”

Making money directly from a blog can be difficult and requires a lot of traffic. Instead, the offshoots of her blog are where James earns her living.

“Blogging is a great spring pad for other opportunities,” she says.

As a consultant, she helps companies “get their feet wet” using social media effectively.  James admits she isn’t much of a Facebook person, and prefers Twitter. This social media tool is the one that “resonates” for her.

Her advice for other MOMeos is to “be really honest about why you are starting a blog,” and be consistent.  If you start out posting Monday, Wednesday and Friday but tire of it and begin posting less and less frequently, you will lose your readers.

“It’s impossible to gain them back once you lose them,” she says.

“Most moms are not going to make money unless they have a ton of traffic. They have to find alternative ways of earning money.

“They can use their blogs to showcase their other talents,” she says.

Conventions are a great place for bloggers to bring the online community offline, says James. Events like these often lead to other ideas, even new opportunities.

“There is a lot of freedom in this new era of the digital world,” says James.

This flexibility allows her the freedom to home school her two daughters, all while managing the club, a personal blog, and other consulting work.

She admits some days juggling it all gets crazy, but her family always comes first.

“But it’s everything I’m completely committed to.”

Blog, Inc.: The Next Big Thing Part 2

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Katja Presnal, founder of Skimbacolifestyle.com

Skimbacolifestyle.com evolved out of Katja Presnal’s passion for connecting with people and her desire to inspire others live life to the fullest.

Presnal, a mother of three, began blogging in 2004 to keep in touch with friends and family.

When she started online retail store Skimbacoin 2006, she quickly realized the potential of including a blog in her list of marketing tools.

Through her blog she quickly became involved in the mom blogging community. She began using her blog as a way to thank everyone who had helped her promote her business.

“I wanted to pay it forward, so I would blog about other moms’ products I believed in,” she says.

With a background in PR, sales and marketing, Presnal was in a prime position to do so. She’s taken advantage, and has successfully promoted a variety of products.

Presnal became one of Wal-Mart’s elevenmoms, an in-house “connected money-saving community” of prominent mom bloggers dedicated to helping others save money. Partly through their blogs, products such as the Twilight DVD shattered previous sales records.

“The presale was the biggest ever,” she says, “I realized my passion was in blogging and connecting people.”

Since then, Presnal has moved away from her clothing line and is focusing on blogging and social media consulting. Recently, she began working for Collective Bias as a community manager.

“Most bloggers have multiple streams of income,” Presnal says, “I don’t know many who make a great yearly income only from advertising revenue.”

Presnal’s blog receives about 15,000 visitors a month, and she follows it with basic tracking programs like Google Analytics. She has 17,000 followers on Twitter, and many Facebook fans.

For her, the numbers are not very important; the benefit is in the other opportunities blogging provides, like her consulting contracts and her current job.

“Influence is something totally different, and that’s why I rather promote the message of community building than trying to gain followers or readers to make your numbers bigger,” adds Presnal. 

But there are several ways a MOMeo can monetize a blog, she says. For example, adding advertising or by paid posting (where a company hires a blogger to write about a specific product).

“A blog is only one tool,” she says. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flicker are also powerful social media tools.

It’s important to pick the one that works the best for you and helps you reach your goals, she says:

“There is tremendous power in the blogging community.” By creating a professional, honest blog with integrity it’s possible to tap into this.

“It’s not just about products or taking advantage of the community,” she cautions, “it’s about sharing information and connecting while trying to offer something of value.”

Even if you are just talking about how much you love your car, she says.

Today, Presnal’s blog has changed, now dedicated to inspiring a lifestyle more than product promotion.

“If I’m able to change one person’s life and make it happier or better – that’s success.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Skimbaco as a clothing line .  We regret the error.

Blog, Inc.: The Next Big Thing Part 1

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Heather Hernandez, founder of freebies4mom.com

After digging up great offers online, Heather Hernandez uses her blog freebies4mom.com to share exciting discoveries with other moms.

Freebies began when Hernandez was trying to find ways to supplement the family’s single income. To help out, the mother of two went online in search of ways to save and possibly make some extra money.

She found forums filled with free samples, coupons and other great offers. Choosing her favorites, she began sharing her finds with friends.

“I started emailing my friends what I found,” she says, “my email list grew from a few friends into hundreds. I was in danger of losing my email account.”

When an acquaintance suggested she turn her emails into a blog, Hernandez was immediately drawn in. The blog format was similar to the emails she was already sending, and although she “barely knew what a blog was,” she quickly saw the potential.

Hernandez created freebies4mom.com in 2007, but never expected it to become a full-time job. Before she launched her blogging career she was a civil engineer.

“I’m an engineer turned blogger,” she laughs.

“Anyone can teach themselves to build a blog. Just take it one thing at a time.”

The key is to find something you are passionate about. It can be a hobby, your family, your career – but you have to want to write about it on a regular basis, she says.

“I have a theory. If I’m excited about it, then other moms will be too.”

Hernandez uses both advertising and affiliate programs (like amazon.com) on her blog.
Though she earns a “good income” now, it took some time before she saw results.

“It takes thousands of visitors to make money,” she cautions.

“Right now I have ten thousand visits each (business) day.”

31,000 people subscribe to her blog through feed readers – a tool which monitors selected blogs or pages for new content and notifies a user.

Hernandez monitors her traffic through Google Analytics and similar programs. She was shocked to discover that her number#1 source for incoming traffic was Facebook.

“I didn’t start my Facebook page until just recently. But after I saw it take off, I realized it was a really effective way to share content with readers,” she says.

“For my type of blog Facebook has been wonderful.”

Hernandez also uses Twitter, but says readers have to be logged on right when the message is posted, and it’s harder to measure the results.

Both are great tools for promoting a blog, particularly if it is new.

New bloggers need to focus on products they like, otherwise the sincerity and authenticity won’t be there – and readers will go elsewhere, she says.

“I won’t blog about something I wouldn’t do [or use] myself.”

With a burgeoning blogging career and active family life Hernandez says she crams a “full time job blogging into part-time hours.”

“Blogging is so flexible you can do it from anywhere,” she says laughing.

“Even when you’re on vacation.”

As of December 1, 2009 the Federal Trade Commission has regulations regarding blog posts and the promotion of products.  A quick overview of the rules can be found at www.avivadirectory.com/blogger-law/or on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

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