How recently have you been asked to donate to a charity at the conclusion of a store or online purchase? Have you participated in a run or walk and been impressed by the number of business groups all wearing coordinated t-shirts? Purchased a pink calculator you didn’t need to support a cause?

Why has “doing good” become so pervasive these days and why should you care?

As recently as the sixties, businesses were expected to focus solely on making profits so its shareholders could benefit and, hopefully, pass on some of their dividends as charitable donations, these days a clear majority of consumers expect companies to play an active role in their communities. According to the 2013 Cone Corporate Citizenship Study, 91 percent of consumers want companies to support social or environmental issues in some capacity!

Doing good in the community and publicizing it in the right way builds name recognition, respect, goodwill, preference, and loyalty towards your practice. It can be a competitive advantage in a crowded field. Again, from the Cone 2013 Study, “Nearly all consumers say that when companies behave this way, they have a more positive image of the company (96 percent), would be more likely to trust that company (94 percent), and would be more loyal to that company (93 percent).”

Involving employees in community outreach builds pride, morale, job satisfaction and cooperation. Potential employees perceive companies with strong community involvement as more attractive, so it becomes easier to recruit and retain, especially Millennials.

And, if these are not sufficient benefits to get you motivated, how about this? You will feel better physically and contribute to a “pay it forward” phenomenon. Studies from several institutions describe the biological “warm glow” triggered by giving linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others. Those on an “oxytocin high” can potentially jumpstart a virtuous circle, in which one person’s generous behavior triggers another’s.

Involve staff in planning your community outreach as a team building opportunity. Perhaps someone is a volunteer or board member at a non-profit organization where you might get involved. Discuss whether to focus your community outreach on donating optical care or seek out a totally different arena in which to help. Would your team prefer donating free eyeglasses to the homeless or helping to build homes with Habitat for Humanity?

Here are suggestions for community involvement aligned with your business.

  1. Serve at a non-profit organization as a volunteer or board member. Join the Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau or Lions Club. Use the opportunity to network, meet new people, talk about your business and build your mailing/email lists.
  2. Donate non-prescription sunglasses or certificates for prescription glasses to charity auctions. This helps the sponsoring charity while building traffic to your shop.
  3. Donate eye exams and glasses to the disadvantaged.
    Consider staging an in-store event, bringing kids from a local school or shelter to your store, creating a party, and getting neighboring stores to donate gifts and refreshments. This may sound easier than it is. Make sure your optometrist is on board and work with a proven, cooperative non-profit agency or school willing to:
    • Identify students they believe would benefit from complete eye exams
    • Provide transportation to and from your business
    • Secure permission slips from parents
    Depending on your lab situation, you may need to bring the students to your facility twice. Or, have the designated students come with their parents at varying off-peak times for their eye exams and frame selection, then bring them in all at the same time to receive their glasses in a party atmosphere with refreshments and gifts. ALWAYS PARTNER WITH A NON-PROFIT AGENCY OR SCHOOL TO SELECT THOSE WITH FINANCIAL AND OPTICAL NEED. MAKE SURE CANDIDATES HAVE ALREADY FAILED A VISION SCREENING. REMEMBER THAT HIPAA REGULATIONS APPLY WHETHER OR NOT A RECIPIENT PAYS FOR SERVICES.
  4. Help school nurses deliver vision screenings. Consider allowing employees to volunteer during work time. Wear shirts with your company logo.
  5. Sponsor a sports protective eyewear program for student athletes in schools with high poverty (RecSpecs, Leader Eyewear). Sponsor a youth sports team such as soccer. Use the opportunity to educate coaches, parents, and players about the importance of safety eyewear and UV protection for children in sports. Your office will be seen as an expert in eyewear safety on and off the field.
  6. Encourage all employees to participate in a charity walk/run together wearing t-shirts with your business logo

Knowing that nearly nine in ten consumers want to purchase products and patronize companies that are socially and environmentally responsible, it would be foolish NOT TO SHARE your community outreach efforts with customers and prospective customers.

While most world religions consider the highest level of charitable giving to be anonymous, this should not be the approach for businesses. Customers want to know your plans and results and the more transparent you are, the better.

Use your practice’s website, social media presence (i.e. Facebook page), electronic newsletter, in store signage and photos to share your community commitment. Inform local media of your plans in the hope they’ll cover the story. (Remember there are no guarantees with Public Relations but its benefit of an implied editorial endorsement is worth the risk.)

Train employees to talk about their involvement with customers in a personal way. Ask the charity you’re supporting to include your business in their publicity and social media efforts.

Many optical charities would welcome your involvement. Here are a few in alphabetical order:

American Optometric
Association Foundation
Provides grants to state optometric associations to address community vision needs through VISION USA and InfantSEE.

Lions Clubs International

Supports sight programs and services including vision screenings, eye banks, and therapy dogs.
New Eyes
Purchases new prescription glasses for US residents in financial need and distributes used glasses to the poor in developing countries.
Orbis International
Provides access to eye health in developing countries by training local eye care teams to deliver improved care. Known for its ophthalmic hospital/teaching facility located on board a DC-10 jet aircraft and its "Cyber-Sight" program which leverages the Internet to connect ophthalmologists for one-on-one collaboration and mentoring.
Prevent Blindness America
Through advocacy, education, vision screenings, patient service programs and support of vision research, fights blindness and saves sight. Many states have local affiliates.
Restoring Vision
Sources new reading glasses and sunglasses for groups sponsoring missions to developing countries and domestic groups serving the underprivileged.
Vision Spring
Uses a social entrepreneurship/micro-lending sustainable business model to establish optical stores in developing countries, then train and equip local people to conduct outreach from these shops to deliver eye screenings and sell eyeglasses, thus providing both jobs and improved vision.
VOSH International
Volunteer Optometric
Services to Humanity
Supports sustainable eye clinics, optometry schools and optometric educators in areas lacking sufficient eye care.

Don’t risk becoming irrelevant to your customers and losing out on the powerful and proven benefits of community involvement. Offer your customers a bonus in addition to healthy eyesight – the possibility of connecting, through you, to the community.