Sometimes we need to open our eyes and notice the opportunities in front of us.
One example: Schools, where you can provide an often-needed boost to programs and at the same time emphasize the differences between your business and its competitors.
• With the blessing of a creative principal and under the required watchful eye of a certified teacher, I once spent a portion of three years "teaching" a small group of bright but bored elementary school students. We wrote; the kids took different roles and we staged a presidential election; a young Tom Skilling came to talk to us about weather (before climate change).
• Think about a weekly sing-along-with-Miss Ellie, if Miss Ellie works at your company and has actual musical talent; or take an afternoon, adjust schedules and let employee volunteers head to the local elementary school and read to kids.
• In the bakery business? Stock the teachers' break room with cupcakes the first Monday of every month.
• If high school sports are big in your district, talk to the boosters club and see if you still have time to place an ad in the football program -- though keep in mind that football is not the only seasonal opportunity at many schools today.
• Many suburban high schools sponsor highly competitive marching band competitions that draw large crowds. Talk to the band parents' group and see what sponsorship opportunities remain available.
• Many suburbs are home to community colleges -- or, often, more traditional four-year schools. Depending on what your business does, talk to the appropriate department head and discuss the possibility of a guest lecture about your industry. There's no guarantee, but chances are you can match your business' specialty with academic majors -- and a classroom presentation about careers.
• Offer student internships. Paid internships always are more preferred by students and their families, but unpaid internships work, too. There are at least two advantages for internship-sponsoring businesses: (1) An opportunity to reach out to young people who will be part of tomorrow's workforce, likely about the time you'll be losing workers to retirement; and (2) the name recognition your business can build as a supporter of the school and its students.
If you're concerned about making a contact, take a look at local business leaders who already are involved at the hometown college level. If you know someone on the board of trustees, that's likely a good place to begin your exploration.
• If your alma mater is close enough, have the same conversations with your own school. There may be lots of ways to connect again and benefit both the students and your business.
In addition, explore the options with your local Chamber of Commerce -- keeping in mind that while your ideas should benefit the community, the goal is to increase your business' visibility. Event signage and web copy should be part of any deal. Your name as a key sponsor in newspaper and other advertising will matter.