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Doing a World of Good

Finding a way for your company to give back to the community.

If you made windshield wiper blades or sold hamburgers, you might produce a lot of product and make good money, but your product has no broad, intrinsic value. Since you’re reading this column, however, you probably don’t sell those things for a living. Like me, you work in the wide-format digital printing industry—an industry that makes amazing products, with universal and intrinsic value. Without donating money or time, we can still provide products and services with a huge potential for public good.

During better times, Pictographics has sponsored large, charitable events, such as the “Aid for Aids of Nevada Black and White Ball” fundraiser. We had a lot of fun doing those projects and found them to be very gratifying experiences. Events of this magnitude, however, require many hours of staff time and thousands of dollars in materials. Given the current state of the economy, we’ve made the decision to temporarily back away from such large-scale projects.

But we’ve found a renewed sense of gratification from participating in small, one-on-one charitable efforts.

For example, we wanted to find a way to support the young men and women serving in the military, and yellow magnetic car ribbons didn’t seem adequate. So, we contacted the proper authorities and requested that we be notified when any service person from our region had been killed. Now, when we receive such news, we contact the family and offer our services pro bono. We then, typically, become a temporary repository for photographs from the family.

We scan the photos, design layouts, and sometimes create artwork that ends up as large-format prints in the form of gallery wrap-style canvas portraits, family portraits, group shots, pictures of happier days, backdrops, table throws, and handouts. The family uses our products during the viewing, memorial service, or funeral. Probably the best thing is that the family is left with portraits and pictures that they clearly treasure. Sometimes the family will request additional prints for other family members and we accommodate these requests.

Because we have gotten so good at working with families in their time of need, we have extended our services to non-military funerals. When there is a death within members of our circle of friends and acquaintances, customers, or the police or fire departments, we are either called or we call to offer our services. Be warned, though: If you go down this road, it can be heart breaking. We have shed a lot of tears. But, the reward is worthwhile.

I think it would be a great testament to the generous nature of our industry if a service such as this were available in other communities around the country. And I’m sure such an opportunity exists for other print providers like our company—organizations that are looking for a chance to pay it forward—and who are willing to do contribute their time and resources to making it a success.

Every little bit counts
Has your company ever considered the public good you could do with your imaging resources? Do you ever give your product away; do pro-bono projects?

You don’t have to give away the farm. There are many levels of giving. One is selling your product at the deepest possible discount rate without losing money. Another is throwing in extras like art charges, setup fees, and installation work at no additions charge. You can also charge only for materials. Or you can be pure pro bono— providing product and services for free.

The definition of pro bono I like best, though, is something that is done for the public good without compensation. That said, the question arises: Why should you give away product? In this awful economy, maybe no one can afford to give anything away. It’s not unreasonable to ask, “What’s in it for me?”

If you measure rewards in terms of dollars, the answer is, “Nothing.”

There is a fine line between good works motivated by quid pro quo as opposed to altruism. It ruins the spirit of giving to look at the act as a branding or a marketing ploy. True, pro-bone work probably won’t drive business to your door, but we have found it to be good for our company and our employees.

It’s okay to say no
I may be the wrong person to be writing about this subject. My wife Sue, daughter Christy, and I are family and the principals of our company, and, with a combined total of 70 years working in the service sector, you could say that we are predisposed to give things away. As entrepreneurs, this is something we’ve had to learn to moderate. Every once in a while, I watch Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is Good” speech on YouTube to get my business attitude into proper adjustment.

Over the years, though, I’ve learned that you don’t have to go it alone. We have contacted manufacturers and suppliers and asked for their support on a particular charitable project. A number have stepped up and generously provided free materials.

If you choose to use your resources occasionally for the public good, what causes should you support? I can’t tell you that. What I can tell you is that you shouldn’t go after every good cause that comes your way. Sit down with your principals and a few key staff and determine what causes you really care about. It needs to be personal, and there should be a consensus. Having a plan also gives you a way to decline some requests. When we respectfully decline to provide assistance, I state that our company has a plan for charitable giving and that we have already allocated all of our resources for this period.

We know our pro-bono efforts have been good for our company. Our employees take pride in their contribution. They feel better about where they work and whom they work for. With as tough as things have been the past year, it’s beneficial to think about problems beyond our own. It has definitely put our situation and work into the proper perspective.

Craig Miller is president of Pictographics (pictographics.net) is Las Vegas, a large-format-graphics service bureau that excels in digitally dyed textiles, wall coverings, and custom applications.

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