In September, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation issued a report on growing concerns that the world could backslide on gains in the international development arena. The United Nations created a set of 17 goals for improving the quality of life that philanthropists have been working toward with the aim of achieving as many of them as possible by 2030. Part of the concern comes from government retrenchment initiated by the Trump administration. The president’s proposed budget calls for deep cuts to funding for national and international programs to address the issues outlined in the United Nations plan. However, the report is not meant as a criticism of the administration, but rather as a call to individual philanthropists to increase their giving in order to prevent a backslide on global development goals.
Driving positive change
One group that could perhaps ramp up philanthropy in the most meaningful way is entrepreneurs. Many people think of individuals such as Bill and Melinda Gates as leaders in giving, but it is important to recognize that even their foundation is calling on other people to join in and drive—or at least maintain—positive change. Entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to become philanthropic leaders because they exert a great deal of influence over the people in their companies and larger professional communities. Furthermore, corporate giving has a number of clear benefits for companies.
Philanthropists may perceive a number of barriers to giving, including major ones such as time and money. Importantly, giving does not have to be revolutionary. Even small campaigns and cultural changes can have an incredible effect, especially when entrepreneurs across the country simultaneously try to enact these shifts. Entrepreneurs can begin to engage in philanthropy in the following ways.
1. Partner with local charities
When businesses develop relationships with charitable organizations in their communities, they can more directly see the impact of their efforts. While entrepreneurs are often unaware of the opportunities for partnerships that are available, there are a number of organizations that are doing inspiring work. People feel an affinity for the communities they live in and are more driven to give back to them. These partnerships can help to make philanthropy a part of the lifeblood of an organization. Then, in time, entrepreneurs can begin to identify national and international charity partners to amplify change as the company itself grows.
2. Make employees feel empowered
Charity is a great way to engage employees and make them feel like the work that they do is worthwhile. The bottom line of this shift in perspective is increased productivity. Employees can become empowered to give back in a number of different ways. Some entrepreneurs may simply want to open up a conversation about which organizations that they believe the company should partner with or support in other ways. Other entrepreneurs may want to take a more literal approach. For example, instead of giving $50,000 to a specific charity, an entrepreneur could decide that each employee will receive a portion of that amount to donate as they see fit. Providing a forum to talk about decisions can create excitement about giving.
3. Donate time
Too often, entrepreneurs approach philanthropy from a one-sided perspective. While philanthropy is often associated with cash donations, there are many other ways of giving back. Most of the alternatives relate to time. Entrepreneurs may want to consider organizing one day each month for their employees to volunteer with a local organization, which can also be a great team-building exercise. Donations of time can also draw on employees’ expertise. For example, if an entrepreneur has developed a particularly effective marketing team, a company could take on some pro bono work to help increase awareness about a particularly great charitable organization. Starting a dialogue in the office can uncover some excellent ideas from employees.
4. Take an entrepreneurial approach
Entrepreneurs have a unique skill set that they can easily apply to the giving arena by creating a new program. When a company’s employees work together to launch an initiative, they will begin to feel a degree of ownership, and great things can happen. A conversation about which needs in the community should be addressed will help employees become more socially focused and engaged. This engagement, in turn, can lead to new opportunities down the road. Companies that take this approach can easily align their programs with their own professional goals so that the community benefits while the companies themselves grow. Often, this approach leads to a number of organic opportunities for growing the professional network and customer base.
5. Start a company-associated foundation
Companies that have a considerable amount of money to earmark for charity may struggle to make timely decisions. Creating a foundation can help to highlight a company’s philanthropic intentions while it receives some tax breaks until major decisions can be made. A foundation can become a central part of a company’s culture over time, encourage more giving from employees, and boost local and global engagement within the larger community.