Ask the experts: Tips for mixing business with charity

To celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2012, Harrisburg-based JHE Production Group spent 25 days over the year giving back to the community.

“That was a bold effort,” said Jay Howard, JHE founder and president. “We’ve done everything from clean up soup kitchens to Habitat (for Humanity) houses.”

Since then, the company’s Giving for Good program has established a monthly service project that targets days when more employees can participate. As a result, the number of employee hours donated to community service jumped from 585 in 2012 to 816 in 2013.

JHE, an entertainment experience company with 75 employees, hosts its own charity golf tournament every year and works with organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, Freedom School Partnersand Wings of Eagles Ranch. The focus on community service builds teamwork and helps employees make an impact on the community.

Here are some of Howard’s suggestions for how small businesses can balance their work with charitable efforts:

Start with the staff: Community service efforts are likely to garner more support if they are generated from employees rather than mandated by management.

“Find out what they are passionate about,” Howard said.

JHE formed a committee of about 12 employees. They brainstorm together and organize the monthly companywide service projects.

At the most recent JHE Golfing 4 Good golf tournament, which raised more than $30,000, 50 employees volunteered on-site.

Proceeds from the tournament went to Isabelle Ledford, whose son-in-law works at JHE. Ledford was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and bone cancer in 2013.

“Working closely together in high-pressure environments, the JHE team is a family that stands together in both the good times and the bad,” Howard stated in a press release about the event. “We are proud to be able to help people like Isabelle in their time of need.”

Don’t ‘cannibalize’ your ongoing business operations: By planning charitable work far in advance, organizers can allow for maximum employee participation during periods when the company can spare the time.

“You need to check your operations calendar,” Howard said. “Check the time of year, the day of the week and how many folks are in town.”

Don’t make promises you can’t keep: “Don’t commit to more than you can do,” Howard said. “Then you’ve created an expectation for the group (that can’t be met).”

Howard said JHE’s committee has done a good job matching community service work with realistic expectations for what company employees can do.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “Every single time a note comes back (from a charitable organization), it says, ‘That’s way more than we expected.’ ”