Over the weekend, I joined about 50 of my employees (that's around 1/3 of the company) at Dance Marathon benefiting Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago. It's an eight-hour dance fest that raised almost $400,000 for the foundation. My company has participated for four years, and two years ago I decided to make us a corporate sponsor.
So what's unique about that?
Our involvement with Dance Marathon didn't start with me. It's not my charity. It wasn't my idea; I wasn't involved at all.
In fact, when one of our employees started promoting it internally, I was irritated because before we knew it, we could have hundreds of emails floating around for any charity, and that can result in apathy due to saturation.
When I voiced this concern to the employee who sent the email, she told me that she wasn't the only one involved. There were four others. Then five. Then ten.
You get the picture.
So I decided to participate with them, and my kids have joined us almost every year. Last year we had over 30 dancers. This year, over 50.
The point is, I allowed my employees to sell me on their passion. Rather than as a CEO, force my passion on them. In almost 18 years, I've never forced an employee to donate time or money to a charity of "mine."
I've seen too many company leaders make that mistake and force their employees to participate in something, rather than letting them develop a passion.
As a CEO of a high-growth company (doubling sales at least every five years), I ask a lot of my team. They don't have to support my charities. But seeing them get passionate about a charity on their own and working hard to raise money on their own motivates me. It shows me what they are all about -- in their job and outside of it.
The ironic thing is, the people who are the most involved in the charity are huge producers at work. They've all been with the company at least four years and they all work hard.
I am always a bit skeptical of the employee who wants to only talk about philanthropy, especially when they've only been with a company a few months. But I know that the reason so many employees participated was because it was led by key influencers of our company.
Of the four, only one is in management, so it's truly peers leading peers. It's awesome. Now I'm passionate about the cause, which creates more synergy for them and not so coincidentally has helped business, as well.
Doing well for others doesn't have to be mutually exclusive to helping your business.
So my advice is don't just donate to your own causes; let your employees' passions help guide you. The important thing is giving back, but creating an environment where your employees can lead you is motivating and creates passion.