Philanthropy is at the core of the mission for some entrepreneurs, not just a seasonal add-on.

CHICAGO (MainStreet) -- At this time of year, you hear a lot about giving back. Whether you're dropping some quarters into a Salvation Army collection kettle or making a donation to Toys for Tots, the holiday season inspires us to think about the less fortunate and what we can do to help.

But some small businesses give back year-round. For them, philanthropy is at the core of their mission, not a seasonal add-on. This growing movement, known as social entrepreneurship, combines the desire to make meaningful change in the world with the drive to earn profits to fund that change. Philanthropy is at the core of the mission for entrepreneurs such as Blake Mycoskie, founder of the shoe retailer Toms, and not just a seasonal add-on.

The shoe company Toms is perhaps the best-known example of this trend. Founder Blake Mycoskie started the company so he could fund a charitable endeavor: For every pair of shoes bought, a new pair is given to children in need around in the world. More than 600,000 pairs have been donated since Toms was founded in 2006.

Other independent businesses around the country have also made charitable giving part of their DNA, albeit on a smaller scale. Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney, New Orleans-area mothers who met when they volunteered in the same kindergarten classroom, partnered up for a for a variety of local fundraisers before deciding to start a business. They knew their art entertainment franchise, Painting with a Twist, would include an element of charitable giving.

The business's concept is a combination of art class and cocktail party: Sign up for a two-hour session, have a glass or two of wine and by the end of the class you've painted your own version of an original artwork under the direction of an experienced artist. Deano and Maloney opened their first location in 2007 and saw the idea quickly take off. "It's a fun, creative business," Deano says, something that was especially welcome in the region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "People would come in tired and stressed and leave feeling better."

Since they began franchising in 2009, Painting with a Twist has grown to almost 60 locations across the country. As part of the franchise agreement, franchisees agree to host one "Painting with a Purpose" event each month, with the proceeds going to a local charity. From January through October of this year, $76,000 was donated. "Some franchisees have told us that's one of the main reasons they came to us," Maloney says.

Deano and Maloney also donate art to local Habitat for Humanity houses, and they say bringing their children along on those visits has been a powerful way to pass on the example of community involvement. "As the business grew, we may not have been there for our children as much as we wanted to," Deano says. "It's been a good way to show them how we're touching other kids."

While the beneficiaries of Painting with a Purpose vary month to month, other small businesses choose a specific charitable focus that aligns with their company mission. In Northern California, Lily Kanter and Serena Dugan, co-founders of home decor company Serena & Lily, donate a portion of all profits to organizations that advocate for at-risk and underprivileged women and children, a cause close to the owners' hearts.

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Dallas-based Soap Hope, which sells natural beauty products online, has taken the charitable concept one step further. Using an approach called "Good Returns," the company gives each dollar it earns to microlenders that help women start businesses. When the loan is paid back, the money is reinvested in the business. The company founders refer to the process as a monetary version of the Peace Corps in which each dollar is "volunteered" for a year of service.

Though charities' needs are as great as ever, most have suffered from a drop in donations in recent years, with many businesses forced to cut back on their giving. Companies that make charitable giving a core of their business model may give less when profits drop, but the commitment to give something remains. And that can send a powerful message to customers about a company's priorities and ethics -- no matter what time of year it is.

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