Business Karma: How Pro Bono Wellness Helps Profits

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What goes around comes around, right? So how can free chair yoga classes at an Alzheimer’s residence lead to revenue and clients for your fitness or wellness business?


Almost every wellness business I’ve seen donates time or money or pro bono (free) services to good causes. After all, making the world a healthier, happier place is what keeps many of us going. The key is to understand exactly how your business can do the most good while increasing the social payoff.

The following principles apply whether you partner with a non-profit, or simply target a particular type of need:

1. Target your benevolence

Pick a cause that aligns strongly with your brand. For instance, if your yoga business targets mostly overstressed moms, think about not just those moms with disposable income but the ones working two jobs to buy groceries and taking the bus to work at weird hours.

They’ll appreciate the value of what you do, and you never know — they may be a customer some day or sing your praises to another future client.  Here’s a thought — see how late the buses run in your neighborhood and open up your studio for an extra class for these moms.

2. Ask questions before you rush in with help

I’m thinking of my local American Diabetes Association office, who often gets donations of “diabetic-friendly food” for its fund-raising events. They don’t get nearly as many people who want to donate their time to make phone calls for advocacy and to fight school and workplace prejudice against people with diabetes.

Guess which one (after cash donations to help find a cure) they appreciate most?

3. Get thoroughly engaged

Become an active part of the community you’re serving. Writing a check is not engagement. Volunteering once a year is not engagement.

Getting your health coaches on multiple committees at your chosen not-for-profit, giving them time off from work to go do monthly health assessments at a senior center, getting up with your geriatric care managers at 4 a.m. to help pack food baskets for the needy elderly, or getting together your practice’s doctors and nurses to bundle donated medical supplies for newly arrived immigrants — THAT’s engagement.

Grateful people have long memories, and this kind of deep participation also gives you lots of opportunities to network with other like-minded businesses and professionals in your community, some of whom may send you business and some of whom may become your customers.

4. Tap others in your network

Your chosen audience may need other help. Think about referrals you can make to like-minded businesses, social outreach organizations, and others.

If you’re helping out-of-work moms by offering free classes on smart eating for only $5 a day, reach out to a life coach for lessons on interviewing and a local consignment shop to provide the suit and handbag for the job interview. There’s a good chance that for all of you, tomorrow she’ll be a paying customer. And even if she isn’t, you’ve created lots of opportunity to increase your visibility and connections.

5. Build on the bonds you develop

Your once-a-month pro bono consultation with selected small business workplace wellness clients helps brand you as a provider who “gets folks like us” and “doesn’t forget the little guy.”

Your pro bono clients get the same services that financially well-off clients get — you don’t scrimp and cut corners just because the work is free.

In doing so, you’ve created not only a sense of loyalty but a sense obligation to bring you referrals and additional business. Plus, these pro bono clients would probably happily agree to serve as case studies for you, or as pilot participants if you want to try out new program ideas.

6. Think business karma, not ROI

Remember our Alzheimer’s example? No, those residents aren’t ever going to be your clients.

But in serving them, you’ve created connections and visibility to

  • paid and family caregivers
  • vendors and service-providers who visited while your team was there
  • the residence’s management
  • the house-calls team from a local hospital
  • the family members attending the monthly Alzheimer’s Association meeting
  • hospice providers
  • care managers

And undoubtedly others — all of whom are potential business connections and all of whom now think you’re a hero.

You’ll never know for sure how much your good works helped your business.  But when you deeply engage, with meaningful participation, and in ways that increase your connections, perceived value and visibility, your wellness business will be the beneficiary whether you can put a dollar amount on it or not.