By Nathan Rudyk

People who watch this space know to look for tips and inspiration on marketing business better. One great way to do that is to "adjust your set", change the channel, and show your company's human side by getting involved with other humans via a grassroots charitable organization.

Stephanie Rudyk experiences SchoolBOX on a build in NicaraguaEven in challenging economic times, customers don’t want to see your company turn mean – quite the opposite in fact. 78% of U.S. consumers – many of whom are still in a recessionary mindset – expect companies to maintain or increase financial support for charities, according to a recent study done by Opinion Research Corp.

85% of customers have more positive feelings towards companies with charitable causes, and 75% indicated that they are more likely to buy a product if the purchase is directly tied to an issue they care about. Reaping goodwill and increased sales, many companies are wearing their charity of choice on their sleeves.

So when we were approached by Tom Affleck at SchoolBOX, a not-for-profit start-up that builds schools and hope for children in Central America, we jumped on the opportunity to offer our PR and marketing services at no charge. That was almost two years ago, and SchoolBOX (started in 2006) has grown from a barely five-figure charity to a fledgling organization that last year raised over $200,000 and built 17 primary-school classrooms while providing more than 10,000 educational packages to keep students in class. For our team at market2world, this is one of our proudest accomplishments.

On the publicity side, we've taken SchoolBOX from being a local (Lanark County, Ontario) media darling to regular appearances on Rogers TV, CBC Radio and TV, and several articles in the Ottawa Citizen. In 2010, in conjunction with a new SchoolBOX office in Toronto and expanded offices in Managua, our goal is national and international coverage.

On Facebook, we've guided SchoolBOX staff and volunteers to expand from 47 fans on a static social networking presence to a thriving community of more than 1,900 2,000 people who care deeply about the cause and are posting their photos, videos, observations, feelings and opinions. The Facebook site's also attracted several offers of help or potential synergies with other organizations. And we recently learned that Facebook traffic is tracking at four times the number of visitors to SchoolBOX's Web site, where we've also guided online communications strategy over the last couple of years.

On a personal level, I've recently accepted an invitation to join the SchoolBOX Board of Directors, and after being invited to go to Nicaragua to see our work in action, decided to take our family of five on a "school build adventure". Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote summarizing that experience, but suffice it to say, I'd recommend that any company looking for an outlet for its charitable giving consider getting involved with SchoolBOX. Why not build a school while you're building your team? Think about it. Adjust your set. You'll be glad you did.

Sandal-clad and bare feet give chase in a cloud of dust and determination. The kids in their blazing white school shirts are winning, as usual. Despite our high-tech footwear and ridiculous size advantage, they gleefully dominate on the concrete soccer pitch. When the ball careens out of bounds, it bounces off rebar, or a wheelbarrow, and rolls into one of the freshly dug foundation trenches where it's quickly plucked out for another round of play.

A half hour later, the Canadians once again concede the daily match to the cheering Nicaraguan children.

The dozen cheles (foreigners) in our group, ranging in age from 14 to 62, briefly retreat from the 30-plus-degree heat to the respite of shade and water. Then, with not a power tool in sight, we earnestly return to the repetitive, manual tasks involved with constructing two new classrooms in a suburban slum of León, Nicaragua's second-largest city after Managua.

For our family -- including sons Aaron, 14, Gabe, 16, and our 19-year-old daughter Stephanie -- it was the most exotic, exciting, humanity-expanding trip we've ever taken.

To read more click here.