group of volunteers with their arms around each other
With a survey of over 500 small businesses, TD Bank found that the top four ways small businesses give back to their communities are with goods, money, time and space. — Getty Images/Prostock-Studio

Some small businesses become so embedded in the fabric of their local community that residents wouldn't recognize their town without them.

Take Sunrise Bread Company, a family-owned bakery established in Titusville, Florida, in 1996. After more than 20 years in business, the original owners sold their company to long-time customers Hannah Cairns and her husband, Kyle.

Since taking over in January 2018, the pair have upheld Sunrise's local reputation as a community gathering place and caretaker. They host fun events for the children of Titusville and their families, donate to local food banks and charities, and participate in a "Pay-It-Forward" program that empowers local businesses to help the homeless population in Titusville.

As it turns out, there are a lot of small business owners who also prioritize serving the people in their own backyard. According to a recent study by TD Bank, nearly three-quarters of U.S. small businesses support local charitable and community causes to show their commitment to giving back and express appreciation for their local customers.

Despite their limited resources, 61% of businesses with $5 million or less in annual revenue provide a value of up to $10,000 to their community every year through gifts, sponsorships or volunteer time. Another 16% report donating $50,000 or more in gifts or time on an annual basis.

Why small, community-focused businesses will always be relevant

Jay DesMarteau, head of commercial specialty segments at TD Bank, believes this focus on community isn't just a nice thing to do; it's essential for a small business's survival and growth.

"You have to be relevant in your community," he said. "If you're not, you're not going to be in business. If you don't have customers and learn ... the market dynamics [in your community], you cannot survive."

DesMarteau noted that approximately 25 million of America's 30 million small businesses are sole proprietors, in business for themselves, by themselves. As those sole proprietors begin to grow, scale and hire employees, he said, they tend to hire from within their community first.

"A lot of them have a vested interest in their community and want to give back, even if they're not highly profitable," added DesMarteau.

[Read: 5 Tips for Hiring the Right Employee]

To support these small business owners, TD Bank provides countless resources for its commercial customers in the form of education on financial products, general business advice and connections to business service providers. DesMarteau noted that TD store managers and small business specialists make outbound calls to 80% to 90% of its customer base every year.

"We try to proactively outreach to customers just to make sure they're doing OK," he explained. "That outreach starts with understanding. We're not experts at running bakeries or breweries, or being a dentist or an electrician, [but] we are experts in how to keep your finances clean and straight, and how to expand."

You're always going to be talked about — good or bad — no matter what you're doing. You want people to talk highly of you.

Hannah Cairns, co-owner, Sunrise Bread Company

Top ways to give back and build your name in the community

The 500-plus small businesses surveyed by TD said they give back by donating the following resources:

  • Goods. This is the most popular method of community involvement, with 35% of survey respondents saying they offer products or food to members and organizations within the community.
  • Money. Nearly 30% of small business owners make direct financial contributions to their community, whether that's by donating to a charity or sponsoring a community event.
  • Time. Another 29% of business owners prefer to give their time to community volunteer work. In fact, 37% of all survey respondents encourage their employees to volunteer in their communities outside of work hours.
  • Space. While this is only an option for businesses with a brick-and-mortar storefront, 12% of businesses host community events in their space.

There's a wide range of causes your business can support, from schools and youth sports teams, to police and fire departments, to arts and cultural organizations. Whatever you do, though, it's important to be genuine about it and find a cause that makes sense for you and your brand.

"[Do] something that speaks to you – something you're passionate about," said Cairns. "We do bread and sandwiches [because] that's our business. Focus on something and give that your all."

The impact of community involvement

For businesses like Sunrise Bread Company, their community reputation goes hand-in-hand with the things they're doing for their local customer base. By sponsoring local events and partnering with organizations in the area, Sunrise is making Titusville a better place and earning more business in the process.

"Word of mouth is everything," Cairns said. "You're always going to be talked about — good or bad — no matter what you're doing. You want people to talk highly of you. Our business name is attached to those things [we do in the community] and we want ... people to remember Sunrise."

While community involvement is certainly a great opportunity to get your name out there and earn new customers, that's not the real motivation for small business owners like Cairns.

"We have a heart for the community in the place we've lived our entire lives," Cairns told CO— of her business's community initiatives. "We love the people we see every day. [Titusville] is where we want to stay ... so we invest in [the community] in every way we can."

"I don't think [small business owners] do it for marketing," added DesMarteau. "I think they do it because their hearts are in it. What makes me happy is they have the ability to do it. They leveraged all [their] resources to get to the point where they're able to give back. My advice? Get to that point."

[Read: 3 Things You Need to Know About Small Business Lending]