Let me start this post by pointing out that it is perfectly normally, and widely acceptable for a business of any size to capitalize on holidays throughout the year. Where you need to be careful is when you try to capitalize on the charitable aspects or nuances surrounding it. If you are going to work with a charity or foundation surrounding a holiday then make sure you do it for the right reasons. Your business will surely benefit from working with a charity so let that take care of itself. The main focus needs to be the cause. People are not stupid, and eventually will realize if your business is using a charity or foundation for the sole purpose of propping up a business. The best outcome for both the charity and the business is when the original intentions are pure.
Now that we have that part out of the way, what can, and should be done by businesses regarding Martin Luther King Jr. Day? The holiday has the same characteristics as other federal holidays, but is unique do to the man it celebrates and how his family, friends, and followers would like to have it celebrated. To fully understand what I mean you need to understand the history of the holiday and how it came to be.
Martin Luther King Jr. was actually born with the first name Michael. It wasn't until 1934 when his father legally changed his, and his son's name to Martin Luther after returning from Germany. Martin Luther was a prominent protestant leader in that region. While this might not be a well known fact in comparison to what we know of his many other remarkable accomplishments, it is likely the first step in guiding him on the path he took in his life. I could fill up pages on end from this point in his life to his memory today. But for the most part we know about his undeniable contribution to this country and the world. He didn't just contribute to civil rights, he carried them. From his many speeches, to the crucial marches, and even the number of times he was arrested in the name of civil rights, he is the undeniable torch bearer of the movement for his time. For this reason I will start from the time of his death.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th, 1968. Depending on your level of belief in conspiracy theory, there are quite a few reasons why. However most have settled on the fact that Ray was a disgruntled racist who didn't want to see the kind of change Dr. King was capable of. It was only a few years after his death that the idea of Dr. King's birthday being celebrated as a holiday was floated. However on November 2nd, 1983 Ronald Reagan made everything official by signing the order to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday to be celebrated on the third Monday of January ever year. It doesn't make the day any more special than other years, but it is worth mentioning that in 2018 the holiday falls on January 15th, which is his actual birthday.
Shortly after his death in 1968, Dr. King's wife Mrs. Coretta Scott King started what is today known as the "King Center" in Atlanta Georgia. It is here that today nearly 1 million people a year make the trip to see the center. The center is more than just a memorial, as it is a resource for non violent civil rights causes. In the 21st century it has transformed even more into an educational resource for social justice. It is also from the King Center where Mrs. Coretta Scott King began to make her push for Martin Luther King Jr. Day to mean more than just a day off of work,a day to fire up the grill, or just another holiday. She wanted people to do something for other people on this day. Famously she said that the holiday should be "a day on, not a day off." Meaning to encourage people to get out and help others, whether through charity, volunteering, or any other way that served the good of people. Thanks to Mrs. Coretta Scott King this holiday holds a different meaning to many people. It is a holiday of giving and charity. Instead of just taking the day off people and businesses go out of their way to donate, volunteer, or help. This is where we can now see why the holiday is unique. While other holidays have a charitable connotation backing them, the call to action on Martin Luther King Jr. Day can feel like Christmas and Thanksgiving to some. CLICK HERE to go to the official site of the King Center to learn more.
Now not everyone has the day off on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. There are some industries that rarely close their doors no matter what the occasion. The hospitality and service industries are generally open seven days a week for example. A lot of them are even open on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve, even if it is just for a few modified hours. There are also some businesses that cannot afford to close their doors for the holiday. Yet some businesses choose to stay open to capitalize on extra revenue from so many others being closed. Regardless of whether your business is open or closed on this holiday there are plenty of things that you or your business can do to celebrate. And if you have been paying attention, by celebrate I mean help out others according to the wishes of Mrs. Coretta Scott King.
It is safe to say that the first thing that comes to mind when the issue of helping out a cause comes up is giving money. If you and/or your business is in a position to do so that is terrific. Monetary contributions will always be useful. It doesn't matter what what the cause, charity, or foundation is, the supplies, resources, and time all cost money. Generally speaking the more the better. No one is going to turn their nose up at you for cutting a check directly, however you can get creative with monetary donations as well. Even turn them into fun ways to raise or collect money. One of the best ways to do this that I have personally seen came from a bar & grill here in Denver, CO last Thanksgiving (obviously this can be used for Martin Luther King Jr. Day as well). They chose a cause and a local charity that they wanted to help out for the holiday. A couple of days before hand they had a day where every tip received that day for everyone working was donated to the charity they had chosen. Obviously they advertised this for weeks in advance, but it was a huge hit and they had a line out of the door all day. I know... I know.... there can be some issues with this. Service employees make most of their money from tips so it could take money out of their pockets. In this particular case it was the employees idea to do it, and anyone who didn't want to participate didn't have to work that day. Also, due to the extra business brought in by the cause, the bar & grill reimbursed the employees on their next paycheck. The publicity and good will that this event created was amazing for the business and it's image. However the thousands of dollars that went to the Charity was the big success. This idea was pure, and immensely helpful, and thus the benefits the business earned were a bonus and well deserved.
Not everyone or every business is in a position to take the monetary contribution route. That does not disqualify you from participating. There are plenty of causes out there that are willing to take as many volunteers as possible. We discussed earlier how expensive it is for charities and foundations to supply the help that they do, so when they can get volunteers it is a great help. Generally the best way to do this is decide on a cause and find a foundation that supports that cause then reach out to them. The volunteering route can be a challenge sometimes for businesses if they are in an office setting with set hours during the week. And for Martin Luther King Jr. Day (falls on a Monday every year) if your business is open, you and your staff cannot really go out and volunteer your time. The only real ways around this are to do something over the weekend or after hours (set up, tear down, etc.). There are still plenty of places that can use help in these situations. For businesses that that have staff that work in shifts with flexible schedules it is a bit easier. Regardless, you cannot force employees to volunteer (hence the word volunteer). I would suggest proposing the idea to your staff and then let them pick the cause and the foundation, that way they get to choose and are more personally invested.
Sometimes the hardest part of giving is deciding what cause you want to support, and then a charity or foundation that supports that same cause. If you are in Colorado like I am, you can CLICK HERE to find a comprehensive list of local charities and foundations to either donate money to, or volunteer at. If you are somewhere else you can CLICK HERE and then put in your location. It will bring up local places wherever you are.
Whether or not you open your business, or have to work on Martin Luther King Jr. Day or not, I hope this has provided a bit of insight into how Dr. King and Mrs. Coretta Scott King would like this holiday celebrated through helping others. And just as importantly, if you do want to participate, I hope that it has at least sparked some ideas of how you can do so regardless of your situation.
As always I have enjoyed putting this together, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it just as much. Thank you and pass this along to anyone that you think could benefit from it.