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Maule: Building your community can help build your business

Published: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

This past Sunday, I was part of an extraordinary social experiment in community economic development. I joined several hundred people participating in the first annual McHenry Patriot 5K race held at McHenry County College. The race was the brainchild of Crystal Lake Chamber Ambassador Michael Splitt of In Sync Systems as a way to help veterans reintegrate into civilian life. TLS Veterans Services is one of the organizations benefiting from the funds raised by the race. 

JA Frate showed the ongoing honor of McHenry County’s fallen veterans with its memorial trailer. BMO Harris, CL Graphics, the Northwest Herald and In Sync Systems were all represented by volunteers helping to get the event off the ground. Members of McHenry County College's Student Veterans Association and members of the Crystal Lake Christian Church manned the water stations. The Running Depot was well represented by participants and 5K training group coaches. The McHenry County Community Foundation, JA Frate, Exemplar Financial and Sport Clips all had runners participating. It was a great day filled with laughter, smiles and some healthy competition. 

Why do I mention it? They are all members of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce. Even the shirt for the event listing sponsors read like a Chamber roster: Sage Products Inc., Black Diamond Plumbing, Northwest Herald, American Community Bank & Trust, BMO Harris Bank, Centegra Health System, CL Graphics, Dorion-Gray Retirement Planning, Fox Valley Dental Associates, yhe McHenry County Foundation, Home State Bank, JA Frate, Advocate Good Shepherd, McHenry County College and the Running Depot all support this inaugural event. 

Bob Blazier, another well-known model of community economic development, has a saying, "If you want to live in a great community, you must give back and help make it great." And each of these businesses is modeling the way. Philanthropy is not about giving money. It is about solving problems. 

Philanthropic involvement in your community is not just a good intangible – it can yield tangible results. Sure, the obvious is the marketing exposure for your company. But the event on that overcast gray Sunday morning had the very real and tangible result of bringing a community together for a cause. People worked side-by-side for a cause while building important long-term business relationships. Employees were participating as a representative of their company, but also were having a great time for a great cause.

Companies are often encouraged to give to charities far and wide, but these employees were working toward what was near and dear. The funds raised will stay in the county, helping to build jobs and opportunities for our veterans. This event is a perfect example of community based economic development – for us, by us, to the benefit of us.

Here is a quick guide for how to be smart about charitable giving.

Make a plan: There are so many ways to give and to so many. A plan helps you to research for an opportunity that is in alignment with your passions and purpose. A plan helps you to stay focused when approached by other focused requests. It is not only about money. Ways to support your community can include donating time or talent from your company, donating products or services, or leveraging your relationships to promote an event. 

Don’t make it all about you: Highlight the ways your employees are participating in their community. Increase engagement by asking your clients and employees what is important to them when identifying where to put your efforts.  

Don’t do it as a write off: You will be disappointed if the only reason you participate is a financial one. You will miss out on the pride of being a part of something great, new relationships built by volunteering, the chance to practice your networking skills and best of all, being an engineer in the building of a great community. 

As I looked across the community room of MCC, I was very proud to be a part of such an amazing organization. The Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce is a tremendous model of community based economic development. Building a great community, one smile at a time. It's good for you, it's good for your community and it is good for business. 

• Mary Margaret Maule is the president of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce.

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