These days it can feel like we’re being inundated with bad news, as crisis after crisis crashes against the surge barriers of our perception. That’s why philanthropic work is one of the most important activities that you and your business can engage in. Taking action to make the world a better place isn’t just good for business, it’s also good for the soul.
There’s no single path to philanthropy. It can be as simple as individual donations, or as involved as an entire foundation. Your goals can be broad or narrow. The Luke and Meadow Foundation, for instance, supports charitable organizations in the interest of improving child health and wellness, while The Amy and Brian France Foundation invests across the country to empower innovative organizations, individuals, and entrepreneurial ventures that are creating a positive environment for families to live, learn and grow.
Whatever form your philanthropy takes will be unique to you and your business. It’s important that you partner with organizations that reflect your personal values. Getting there can be a journey in and of itself.
Contemplate Your Personal Interests
A good place to start is with some self-examination. What issues are you passionate about? Don’t limit yourself to the role of business leader. Consider all aspects of your life experience, where you’ve been and where you want to be, and use that as a guiding light to find the cause that resonantes most strongly with you.
Have a hobby that you’re passionate about? Maybe it’s the arts, or music. Maybe you just enjoy a game of baseball. Whatever it is, your favorite way to unwind can provide a good jumping-off point for some charitable work. The enthusiasm is already there; all you need is a way to channel it. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of organizations dedicated to supporting arts, sports, and other activities in your community. Donate new equipment to your local Little League, or new art supplies to the school system. Become a sponsor for your public symphony orchestra, or start a fund to support music students. Finding a way to support your favorite hobbies is limited only by the scope of your own passion.
Social Issues that Matter to You
Already a vocal advocate for a social cause or a disadvantaged group? Then turning your voice into charitable work is as easy as taking the next step. Social justice groups are always in need of donor support; it’s just a matter of reaching out. Even if you’re not already an activist, getting involved is easier than ever. Today’s social landscape is defined by numerous causes, and odds are it was one of these causes that called you to philanthropic work in the first place. As Mr. Rogers famously said, “Look for the helpers.” Find those already working to effect real change and get involved.
Prior Volunteer Work
In a similar vein, any volunteer work that you’ve already done and found fulfilling can be a great stepping stone to larger philanthropic contributions. Whether it was your local animal rescue or a soup kitchen, figure out which experience left you feeling fulfilled. Identify what it was about that experience that was so gratifying, then ask yourself: how can I do more? Maybe it’s as simple as making contributions to those organizations, or maybe you want to get even more involved. Consider joining a board of directors or starting your own organization dedicated to the same causes, if there is a need within your community.
Contemplate Your Professional Interests
As a business leader, your personal passions and values are only half the story. The work you’ve done as a professional, the industry you operate in, and the image you’ve cultivated for your business are just as important to consider when it comes to philanthropy.
Take stock of your organization’s core values. What standards of conduct do you hold your employees and yourself to, both internally and externally? What qualities do you look for in new hires? Which morals do you cultivate and embody in your daily operation? All these factors can act as markers on a map, guiding you to charities that mesh strongly with your business identity. Partnering with organizations that embody similar values is just as important for the growth of your business as it is for the causes that you support.
Don’t limit yourself to the present, either. Consider where you want your business to be in five or ten years. What initiatives do you want to take up? It could be improving diversity among your ranks, expanding your locations, or opening a nonprofit division to give back to the community. All these offer potential avenues for philanthropy, at whatever scale you feel is right for your business. If there’s a possibility of rebranding in your future, consider incorporating your charitable work into that new brand. It’s a move that can benefit both your business and the causes you want to support.
Consider Who Needs Support the Most
Of course, the goal of all philanthropic work is to effect positive change, so it’s important to put some serious thought into which issues and organizations need help. Think locally as well as globally. Take a look at your own community. What are the most pressing issues impacting the neighborhoods, residents, and businesses in your area? If there are particular groups of people that need help, be it food, clothes, medicine, or shelter, what can your business do to address those needs? Consider hosting a food drive or school supply donations. Connect with other local organizations to collaborate on solutions. Establishing partnerships with charitable leaders in your community is essential to solidifying your own role as a philanthropic leader.
If you want to take your contributions international, you’ll find no dearth of causes that need support. Consider carefully the biggest issues on the world stage and figure out how you can help, whether it’s disaster relief, wildlife preservation, or some other form of humanitarian aid. Here, too, you should reach out to other established organizations. Not only does it buttress your own standing, but it also puts you in contact with infrastructure and resources to help ensure that your contributions are being put to good use.
Research Groups Connected to Organizations You Already Support
Collaboration is key when it comes to philanthropy. One of the best things about charitable work is that you’re never in it alone. Organizations you’ve already partnered with are, themselves, partnered with even more organizations. By examining these pre-existing relationships, you can quickly establish a network of contacts and allies to further your efforts exponentially.
Look closely, not just at the groups your partners have aligned themselves with, but also at the events they participate in each year. Fundraisers, auctions, and galas are all fertile ground for networking within the philanthropic world. Similarly, take these events as inspiration. It’s essential to frequent the same circles as your partners, but it can be just as impactful to host your own charitable events. Doing so establishes you and your business as a pillar of the philanthropic community and will open even more doors for your future endeavors.
Look Into the Organizations’ Track Records
As always, though, make sure prospective partners share the same values and interests as you and your own organization. Do your research; don’t assume that every charitable group has a perfect track record. Nor should you assume that their core values and moral priorities are in perfect alignment with your own, just because you’re both working in the same charitable field. Past scandals and missteps could come back to haunt you, even if you had nothing to do with them.
Take a closer look at the work they’ve done for their chosen causes. Have they followed through on major projects, or left them abandoned? Are they spreading awareness about the right issues, in the right ways to get things done? Can you see yourself working with them on future events, projects, and initiatives? If the answer to any of these is no, then reconsider a partnership. Even the most well-intentioned groups can be run aground by bad leadership, and the resources it might take for you to “save” them could be better allocated to supporting the actual cause.
When considering a partnership it’s also important to examine who they have partnered with and donated to. Make sure their past and current allies also reflect your core values and goals. Analyze, too, the events and initiatives that their partners have participated in. One or two poor decisions may not necessarily be cause for abandoning a prospective ally, but a history of bad partnerships could be indicative of a lack of business acumen. If they don’t have the wherewithal to be discerning in their collaborations, do you really want to add them to your own network? Remember, it’s all about doing the most good possible. Don’t let your effort and image be spoiled by the groups you associate with.
Philanthropy can be among the most important and fulfilling work a business can participate in. While it begins with your own values and passions, it’s not something to rush into without some solid homework backing you up. Take stock of what matters to you, then take the time to formulate a plan and find the partners that will allow you to be as effective in your goals as possible. Online directories like GuideStar and CharityWatch, or your local state charities bureau, can be a good place to begin your philanthropic journey.