Benevolent Capitalism: If you are just starting a business, there is neither money nor time to spare. You may be short of it. However, it is interesting that the act of donating and volunteering to help others will often benefit you and your business even more than it benefits the recipients,
Being benevolent with your two scarcest commodities curiously has a number of returns on investment, even beyond the obvious gift of generosity.
if you give money, you will find that your choice of cause will be more difficult that you imagined. Learning how to make the decision will teach you something in itself and improve your judgment skills. You may already be charitable, but now maybe, you will want to focus your giving on issues that connect either with the spirit of entrepreneurship, the field in which you work, or in some cases giving back to the system of which you are a part.
Examples might include:
- microloans: making very small loans to to the unemployed, to poor entrepreneurs and to others living in poverty;
- community loan funds: that support minority development for business or other purposes;
- social enterprises: social mission driven organizations which trade in goods or services for a social purpose;
- workshops for disabled: in your trade or industry there are most likely workshops for the disabled in your sector, locality, or that call for your skills.
Benefits: You will be creative in thinking about other ways in which to offer money in a way relevant to your activity. The results will surprise you. They may give you an opportunity to learn about something for which there is an application in your business; you may encounter business with abilities or ideas to contribute to your business; learning more about the organization your help finance may spark ideas for your business.
If you give time, you will learn about people whom you would not ordinarily meet in the course of normal business. They will be your teachers: learning life skills such as humility or compassion, learning business skills such as team-building or marketing, learning community skills such as co-operation or problem-solving.
Organizations might include:
- trade or professional association: developing the reputation of the activity, recruiting and training for the sector, setting performance standards and qualifications;
- local or regional non-profits: especially ones in fields completely outside your experience, for example in homelessness, the arts, the elderly, justice, re-training the unemployed;
- social activism—attitudes and behavior that attempt to influence the social distribution of status, power, and resources: particularly in fields where you have special knowledge or experience, such as promoting the cause of entrepreneurship, community building, voter education and civism;
- cultural or sporting association: you may have a personal or family passion in a field of recreation where you would simply be resourcing yourself and finding a balance with your economic activity.
Benefits: Probably the biggest benefit is to take you away from your business which otherwise offer you no respite from the intense commitment. In a sense it is easy to give money which is simply a commodity, but giving time is giving of yourself. If you have already offered time to non-commercial organizations, you will know that surprise is one of the big delights. It is like the difference between watching a play and acting in one. The benefits are great and difficult to quantify.
A great opportunity exists for sharing contacts. “I know someone who can.” is a wonderful response to someone who asks for help. It’s almost better than, “Let me do that for you.” You can share individual names, participate in a social networking site, or simply be open to making mutual introductions. There may be no immediate benefit, but such generosity generally breeds a positive network.
There are ways that you can improve your skills. Toastmasters has a growing following for just that reason. Then there’s Luminosity that provides users with constant access to an ever-growing library of brain games, training courses and assessments.
Benefits: If you are generous with your contacts and introduce them to one another, as well as people you think could benefit, you’ll find that they will reciprocate. of course, if you set out to be generous with the objective of receiving it, you’ll probably be disappointed. It becomes just a way of life, not giving to get, but giving to give.
A Systems Approach
Companies are finding more and more that traditional benevolence is one thing but taking a systems view of the issues of interest takes them down a much more rewarding road. You may feel good about associating with a non-profit or NGO, maybe the more so if you contribute 10% of pre-tax profits to a charitable organization. On the other hand if you partner with it (even at a micro level within your own community), the effort may take longer to produce results, but the impact will be grater—both on your company as well as the issue you are addressing.
One simple fact that may help you appreciate what may not be apparent unless you are using systems thinking, is that it takes nearly 1,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk! “In a world of growing interdependence, it’s more important than ever to learn how to expand the boundaries of normal management attention and concern in order to see the larger systems in which businesses operate.” (Peter Senge et al in The Necessary Revolution)
Benefits: Systems thinking takes you beyond direct cause-and-effect. It was always so, but in this ever more connected and inter-communicating world, most of the significant problems we face in society do not have straight line simple solutions.Your own enterprise fits into a system, or most likely many inter-locking systems and to ignore this fact is likely to take you into a cascade of problems if you do not take a holistic view.
The book One Couple’s Gift is the story of two seemingly ordinary people—Harold and Luise Nielsen, of a business called Foldcraft, converted to an employee-owned company and of a foundation called Winds of Peace, and the extraordinary vision they all share—of a just and peaceable world.
The reciprocity is but one example of ways that companies, especially entrepreneurial ones, combine inner values with business values and produce learning organizations that make significant contributions beyond a simple charitable act of a donation to a non-profit. The integration of personal and corporate purpose produces something more than a sum of the parts and generates value beyond the balance sheet.
Benefits: this kind of reciprocity is a generator of wellbeing far beyond the act itself and the comeback may well appear to have created something out of nothing. The collective learning from such a systems approach will almost always lead to further learning as the lessons are integrated into the business operation. On the other hand, ‘greenwashing’ (a term used to describe the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly) may achieve short term advantage, but in this social networking, blogging age, will be unsustainable. The truth will out.
There is growing support for the one-to-one business model. Tom’s Shoes and Eyewear is a good example, where for every product purchased the company will help someone in need. Another is a StartUp launched through the crowd funding platform Indigogo called Cole & Parker, selling socks where 20% of sales go to donations to Kiva for microfinance. Other examples include Warby Parker, Blanket America, Smile Squared, and Roma Boots.
Benefits: You can get inspired by the book Start Something That Matters the book by Blake Myscoskie, Tom’s Shoes founder. Social entrepreneurs like Blake work in vast numbers and a visit to the Skoll Foundation will give you more ideas. Their mission is to drive large scale change by investing in, connecting and celebrating social entrepreneurs and the innovators who help them solve the world’s most pressing problems.
Here is an unashamed plug for a non-profit organization.
Venture Founders supports and makes loans to
Mission: Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty. It is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.
Entrepreneurs: The people you see on Kiva’s site are real individuals in need of funding – not marketing material. When you browse entrepreneurs’ profiles on the site, Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates and track repayments. Then, when you get your loan money back, you can re-lend to someone else in need.
Microfinance: Kiva partners with existing expert microfinance institutions, hence Kiva gains access to outstanding entrepreneurs from impoverished communities world-wide. These partners are experts in choosing qualified entrepreneurs. Through Kiva, partners upload their entrepreneur profiles directly to the site so you can lend to them.
Technology: Kiva provides a data-rich, transparent lending platform, using the power of the internet to facilitate one-to-one connections that were previously prohibitively expensive. But do not believe me, do two things: