Whether you're operating a startup or a long-established business, what role does your company play within your community?
Or does it play a role at all?
Some entrepreneurs feel their business demands 100% of their time, energy and resources, and therefore they pay no attention to social responsibility. For others, giving back to the community is in their companies' DNA, and they attribute their success, at least in part, to the fact that they made community service a part of their founding mission.
Count me and my firm among the latter. We're convinced that giving back to the communities we serve creates invaluable goodwill for us, along with many other benefits--economic and otherwise.
My wife, Jean, and I formalized our philanthropic strategy years ago. We chose financial education (obviously, due to the business we're in), science, healthcare and the arts. A key requirement for us is "impact"--making sure our donations materially and meaningfully provide a sustained benefit to a large number of people.
It's easy to incorporate community support into your business plan. Give every employee one paid day off each year to engage in volunteerism. Match employee charitable donations up to $1,000 per year--simply require that all recipients be local nonprofit organizations (so the money stays local in each community where you do business)--and watch as schools, sports teams, hospitals, humane societies and a wide array of charities and all their staff, donors, volunteers and beneficiaries hear your company's name in a favorable light. Our firm does all the above, and we've found it actually helps recruit and retain talented staff. That adage about doing well by doing good is certainly true.
If you want to give back to your communities but aren't sure how to go about it, start by simply listing some causes you care about, and then perhaps narrow it down to one or two that are special to you--maybe as a result of a personal experience. Or ask your staff to offer their ideas.
Once you've selected a charity, simply ask it what it needs. Trust me: The organization won't be shy about telling you. When we asked the fundraising staff of a hospital foundation in our community what we could do for them, they responded with a long list. We chose what resonated with us, and with their help formed a strategy for our contributions.
You and your company have nothing but benefits to reap by engaging in your community and helping however you can. Instead of fearing it might drain resources or distract from your company's mission, you'll find that it can contribute significantly to your success.
That's been our experience, and I've no doubt you'll discover the same.