Finding Time for Philanthropy

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Combining business with community service helps Colorado Canines' owner to do well while doing good.

For Alex Teller, community service is second nature.

Beginning as a hospital candy striper at age 13, she has visited the elderly in nursing homes, worked in soup kitchens and organized clothing drives for the homeless. "Helping others is the right thing to do — it's part of being a citizen of this planet," Teller says.

Today, however, Teller has less time to devote to volunteer work. After taking FastTrac NewVenture in 1999, she launched Colorado Canines, a pet "empawrium" that sells food, outdoor gear and toys for dogs and cats — and generates nearly $500,000 in annual revenue.

Despite the time constraints of entrepreneurial life, Teller finds ways to meld good works with good business practices. Here's how:

Recycling program. For every bag supplied by customers, Teller will donate 5 cents to a charity, with proceeds going to a different charity each month. To help drum up interest for this new endeavor, Teller plans to promote the recycling program on her company's Web site: www.coloradocanines.com.

A passionate recycler, Teller hopes the program will increase consumer awareness for both the charities and conservation in general. "It makes my blood temperature rise to see someone throw something away that could have been reused," says Teller.

Donations from adventure trips. Last year Teller introduced a new product to Colorado Canines — adventure trips for pets and their owners. The trips, which range from spa excursions to backpacking and snowshoeing, typically cost between $100 and $400 per person. Teller's community-service idea: Give adventure-trip participants a chance to make donations to a designated charity during the processing of fees.

Special events. Each year Colorado Canines participates in a number of fundraisers, including the Boulder Humane Society and the Boulder Safe House, a program for battered women. The company's support varies — from hosting a booth and helping educate pet owners about animal care to donating merchandise for prizes. This year Teller plans to donate an adventure trip for one charity's silent auction.

It's a lot to juggle, but Teller has two secret weapons: her ability to stay organized and a team of eight top-performing employees. "I have an incredible staff," she says, noting that they enjoy helping out at community events. "It's fun for them to do something different — and, of course, I pay them just as if they were working in the store."

Hosting a booth is also good exposure for the company, Teller says: "There's always a chance that we may make a new customer, but helping the nonprofit is first in our minds."

By introducing customers to good causes and providing ways for them to become involved, business owners serve as important catalysts, Teller says: "It all works to build community."

Even if you have little time or money, do what you can, she urges. "You can help out more than you may think."

Writer: T.J. Becker

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