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Targeting small business

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Fund aims to spur philanthropy among small firms, entrepreneurs. 

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Getting small businesses and entrepreneurs more involved in giving and volunteering is the goal of a new initiative by Foundation for the Carolinas and Charlotte Business Journal.

The new SEED/Charlotte charitable program initially aims to enlist up to 10 firms at least two years old, each of which would contribute $1,000, to be matched by the foundation.

The firms would receive training from the foundation in grantmaking, and then use the funds to make grants, with at least one employee from each firm volunteering at least two hours a month for nonprofits receiving grants.

“The overwhelming number of businesses in America are small business,” says Michael Marsicano, the foundation’s president and CEO. “It’s a great untapped resource for charitable giving.”

The initiative, designed to inspire small firms to give more or for the first time, builds on recent efforts by the foundation to target “affinity” groups such as women and young professionals, helping them pool their charitable dollars, learn about philanthropy and make grants, says Don Jonas, senior vice president for community philanthropy.

The foundation, he says, also is teaming up with United Way of Central Carolinas to develop a new fund to involve young people in grantmaking.

The SEED program, or SmallBusinesses and Entrepreneurs Enriching and Developing Charlotte, was launched at a breakfast Aug. 25 at The Westin, with Grant Thornton, U.S. Trust and General Dynamics serving as supporting sponsors.

The Business Journal will contribute some proceeds from the event to the fund, which will be managed by Foundation for the Carolinas and has received pledges for funds from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Foundation, Duke Power/Duke Energy Foundation, IBM Corp. and RBC Centura.

With 10 firms taking part and the foundation matching their contributions, the fund would have $20,000 for grants, and nonprofits would receive 250 volunteer hours combined, totals Jonas hopes will grow next year.

The goal of the new fund is to get small businesses more involved in the community, says Jeannie Falknor, publisher of the Business Journal.

While big companies are asked to contribute a lot to the community, and do, she says, “we need to broaden the base of giving from business in the Charlotte region, and one way to do that is to bring small businesses to the table.”

Small firms, or those with fewer than 99 employees, represent 98 percent of all businesses, Falknor says, yet they may be reluctant to contribute to charity because they believe their contribution will have only a small impact.

“What we’re saying is that your few dollars can do a lot of good if you join with other small businesses, and through this fund, we’re able to match your dollars,” she says.

And giving, she says, is a win-win for the community and small businesses alike.

“Through philanthropy, you make contacts, you learn more about your community,” she says. “And by giving back to the community, you strengthen the community. Philanthropy does drive the economic development of communities. And the healthier the community is, the greater chance your business has of succeeding.”

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