The Business of Giving

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By Jeffery D. Wallace

About ten years ago, I was at a crossroads in my career.  An intriguing opportunity arose that would take me out of the private sector and into the non-profit arena – again.  The intrigue of the role matched the enormous level of anxiety that I had in weighing the pros and cons of jumping back into the human services field.  I felt that the skills and aspects of the corporate world that I loved would be lost and that I would have to undertake a paradigm shift to reengage and assimilate into a mindset that was all about the human condition.   I look back on that state of thought now and laugh.  Why?  Quite frankly, there wasn’t a transition.  There was only an enhancement of my understanding of the commonalities between the corporate and non-profit world and how the ideologies surrounding the two sectors are indelibly embedded in the schemes of successful businesses.

The basic premise of most non-profit organizations is to serve those in need (in one capacity or another).  Most non-profit practitioners would agree that when that service is received well by the client, you have the foundation for a transformative result stemming from that service.  Now, if I asked you to provide the profile of a good customer for your business, I am sure those characteristics would include the ability to pay for services, good attitude, reasonable expectations and other attributes that speak to a sound transactional relationship.  Those characteristics wouldn’t include arrogance, lack of response, or an oblivious perspective of your business.  Yet, there are companies that operate without a sense of their community, do not engage in issues pertaining to their customer base, and (in what is probably the most egregious quality) don’t operate in a way that reflects understanding of their customer base (i.e. how are my customers created?).  The simple point of this editorial is to generate more dialogue within the leadership of your company around investing in your business through giving and to understand the symmetry between the quality service model of a sound non-profit organization and a sound business.  However, the larger point looms regarding the more penetrating question:  Does embracing a “giving” strategy for your business entail a complete deviation from how I currently do business or is it more an extension of how I already do business?” Please don’t misunderstand me.  Giving, in my opinion, is an opportunity that manifests character, which manifests living well.  However, I understand that a small business looking to generate profit has to look at giving in a strategic way, even if the aforementioned value is the same for that company.

A “giving” strategy is probably optimal when you give in a way that reflects the way you serve customers.  Giving to organizations or projects with strong fiscal controls, embedded evaluation models to determine a return of investment for their labor, good leadership, relevant missions, and the recognition of excellent customer service as an essential premium reflects prudence in community investment.  There are, of course, many levels to giving back to your community which includes (but not limited to) having your company represented on a non-profit board, financial giving, community service initiatives, hosting events that support enhanced quality of life, providing free consulting services to people or organizations, facilitating fundraising initiatives for worthy causes, and holiday sponsorship of families, to name a few suggestions.  With that, the primary point is to give in a way that makes sense for your business that speaks to sound branding and equipping your customer base and potential customer base with the capacity to live better lives, and thus become better customers for your business.

Having the ability to say your company is a vested stakeholder in the lives and communities of those that patronize your business is a powerful statement that resonates when:

  • Making a business case to your customers about why they should choose your business over others
  • Communicating to your employees the values of the business they work for,
  • Communicating a strong understanding of “return on investment” to partners and stakeholders

In upcoming articles, my hope is that a perspective of “giving back” as an imperative business strategy is either received, enhanced, or created for your business.  Congratulations on the development of your aspiring business and the fruits of your labor that will be forth coming!

Jeffery D. Wallace

President, Altus Foundation

jwallace@thealtusfoundation.org

www.thealtusfoundation.org

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