How restaurants can create community by partnering with nonprofits

By Adrian Johansen

It’s not uncommon for restaurants and nonprofits to work together, mostly to raise money for that particular organization or because the restaurant supports it and wants to find a way to give back. One of the most common practices is for a patron to mention an organization by name at the restaurant and for a portion of the profits to be donated to that organization.

While that’s a great start, there are plenty of additional ways restaurants can partner with nonprofits and foster a greater sense of community.

As we enter a post-pandemic world, small, local businesses and nonprofits continue to experience different setbacks and struggles. There are still supply chain issues, a sluggish economy, and difficulty finding workers. Restaurants and nonprofits can work together beyond the “dine-to-donate” model and end up helping each other with different initiatives and fresh ideas.

If you’re a restauranteur or marketing manager for your restaurant, let’s look at how you can boost your local community, do something to give back, and potentially help your business grow all at once.

Hosting and providing for local events

One of the best ways to give back to a nonprofit that means something to you is to host an event with them. You can either do it at your restaurant or offer to cater food at their location if it has more room.

Putting together an event like this is beneficial for everyone involved. From a business standpoint, partnering with a nonprofit is a great way to define your company culture. You’ll let your patrons (and potential patrons) know exactly what you stand for and why your community is important to you.

You’ll also establish a business environment that focuses more on human connection than profits. In foodservice, that’s extremely important if you want to stand out from your competitors, especially if your restaurant is family-owned. Family-owned businesses that want to stay in the game have to compete against national chains and corporate giants — the only way smaller food shops are going to stay open is by embracing the local community they feed.

Catering an event with a local organization or donating funds, wait staff, or your time is a great way to give back and help a group in need. You can also boost your name in the process by marketing your business with:

  • Free swag for attendees (t-shirts, cups, etc.)
  • Business cards
  • Creating a specialty drink or dish for the event

Now, more than ever, people want to feel a connection to the businesses they frequent, including where they eat. Partnering with a nonprofit for an event is a good place to start, but make sure you’re getting the most out of it by letting everyone there know who you are, and why the partnership matters.

Getting sustainable with your suppliers

There’s no denying our country is facing some supply chain issues at the moment. The disruptions have been caused by things like:

  • Increased demand
  • Port delays
  • Labour shortages
  • Manufacturing issues

Unfortunately, these issues have caused major problems for restaurants across the country. If you don’t have the supplies on hand to serve your customers, your business is going to suffer.

One way to fight back against these supply chain issues and do something worthwhile to benefit your community is by going sustainable with your suppliers. Choose local businesses, farmers, and manufacturers to partner with when it comes to getting what you need for day-to-day operations. Doing so will reduce your carbon footprint since you won’t have to rely as much on cross-country deliveries.

While local suppliers might not be nonprofit organizations, they tend to be smaller operations that rely on community members to stay afloat. It’s also not uncommon for farmers and local food suppliers to give back to the community, so partnering with them can be a fantastic way to show the patrons in your neighbourhood that you value what the community has to offer.

Attaching your name to strong causes

If you really want to create community by doing something great with an organization, take a look at where your help is needed most. Or, choose to support something you’re passionate about.

A great way to get involved is by looking for smaller nonprofit programs people are running from their homes. For example, you could try supporting local art. Consider hosting an art show at your restaurant, allowing people to browse different pieces by local artists while they enjoy a special dining experience. You can give the money back to the artists in full, or work with those artists to agree on a charity to support.

Although it’s not technically a nonprofit organization, you might also want to consider working with the local school system. Many schools across the country are always in need of funding for things like fine arts programs and sports. Catering a school event or attaching your name to a school fundraiser will provide an excellent marketing opportunity for you while supporting the next generation.

There are so many ways restaurants can foster a stronger sense of community and give back to nonprofits. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope and go beyond traditional “donation” methods. When you do, not only will you show your community what you’re all about, but you’ll develop lasting relationships with organizations that will leave a positive impact on everyone involved.

Adrian Johansen lives in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing focuses on the intersection of business, technology and sustainability issues.