The Influence and Impact of Small Businesses on Community

And making a difference with nonprofit partnerships

by Sam Leyvas

Small businesses are the backbone of community. For many, owning and operating a small business has been the fulfillment of “The American Dream.” Whether it’s opening their own bakery or starting their own contracting firm, many people have a personal story of what made them go into business for themselves.

Although the idea initially might be for self-sufficiency or to be their own boss, being better connected to their local community is an overlapping message of their “why.” Partnering with nonprofits helps drive the business’s value by reaching more people through philanthropic engagement. The overall impact of this kind of relationship can help be the bridge between business and the many challenges that communities face, even at a neighborhood level.

 Small Businesses Create Jobs and Support Local Economies

Small businesses are collectively the largest employers in local communities and help to create a diverse and vibrant local culture that can attract visitors and boost tourism. Comprising more than half of Arizona’s total workforce and totaling more than $71 million in local income and wages, Arizona small businesses have created hundreds of thousands of jobs, which not only reduces unemployment but also provides economic opportunities for the entire community.

Small businesses contribute upward of $10 billion each year in Arizona state and local tax revenue that is used to fund local services, public safety, schools and infrastructure improvements. These community investments can be the reason a park is built to provide children a safe space to play or aid with assistance for our neighbors to get the services they need to succeed in life.

Many small businesses also tend to support one another by purchasing products from each other. For example, a restaurant owner might source only locally grown and raised produce and meat, or an art gallery may choose to display only works from local artists. This kind of revolving interaction creates a ripple effect throughout the community, while also creating a strong community for its residents.

Partnering with Nonprofits Creates Strong Community

Small businesses are often deeply connected to their local communities. They are more likely to participate in community events and support causes, which helps create greater connections among the people, places and happenings in local neighborhoods.

When a business chooses to partner with community-driven organizations, common ground is created between the business and its employees and customers. Having a sense of social responsibility is important to consumers — and they certainly take notice. Partnerships that support charitable causes can help businesses align their values as a company with those of their stakeholders. This has been proven to positively impact a company’s long-term sustainability.

The issues that matter the most in our community — like decreasing homelessness, improving education and increasing access to affordable healthcare — are too complicated for any one organization to tackle alone. Through collaborative partnerships, businesses and nonprofits are provided greater opportunities to best meet the needs of their community through collective impact. Whether through volunteering or providing financial or in-kind donations, there are countless ways businesses can help make communities stronger and more prosperous.

Some Ways Small Businesses Can Partner with Nonprofits

  • Sponsoring events: Small businesses can sponsor events or initiatives organized by local nonprofits. This can help the nonprofit raise funds and awareness, while also providing the small business with exposure and positive public relations. Events can include galas, short-term supply drives, golf tournaments, luncheons and more.
  • Volunteering: Small businesses can encourage their local employees to volunteer with charitable causes. This can help build stronger connections between the business and the community while also providing valuable support for the nonprofit’s mission. Volunteer engagement activities can include sorting and packing emergency meals at a local food bank, installing and maintaining community gardens at local schools, or even serving on a nonprofit board.
  • Donating: Financial and in-kind support helps fuel and drive philanthropic work. Small businesses can donate products or services to nonprofits, when needed, or can donate financial resources through company proceeds, employee giving campaigns — or both! They can also provide important pro bono services such as marketing and graphic design.
  • Engaging in cause marketing: Small businesses can create cause-marketing campaigns that donate a portion of sales to a nonprofit. This can help raise funds for the nonprofit’s programs while also promoting the business and its products or services.

A business’s first step can be talking with its customers, employees and neighbors to find out which causes mean the most to them. Businesses may also reach out to trusted philanthropic collaborators like the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, Valley of the Sun United Way and other community and educational foundations, or research a nonprofit’s history and rating through vetting organizations like Candid/Guidestar and Charity Navigator.

What matters the most is picking a trusted partner that will resonate with the business’s stakeholders to create meaningful and lasting change.

Sam Leyvas is vice president of corporate relations and social responsibility for Valley of the Sun United Way. A current project at VSUW is its journey to Mighty Change 2026.

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