Reaping Business-Building Rewards From Charitable Connections: Where Is Your Moral Compass?

Some businesses get involved in numerous charitable missions while others try to play a more significant role in just one or two. No matter the strategy, individuals and companies helping non-profits often reap business-building rewards from their efforts, even if that is not the primary objective.

Many businesses boost spirit and morale by sending a company team to group-challenge events such as the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk or The Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Some companies will match the individual funds raised by team members with equivalent firm funds. That kind of corporate citizenship is vital to business-building at all levels. Along the way, the camaraderie that results from employees spending time together outside the workplace and in support of a good cause is priceless.

When it comes to individual involvement, many companies strongly encourage employees to serve on boards and commissions. While civic and charitable organizations today are certainly in need of contributions of both time and energy from community-minded people, business professionals are often looking for ways to meet new sources of business via community connections. Professional service firms — in law, banking, accounting and beyond — often strongly encourage their mid-level management team to get involved in volunteer pursuits and, eventually, join a board or serve in a leadership position for a non-profit. Luckily, most people willing to share their talents have high standards of personal integrity. And, aren’t those the ones we want to do business with, first and foremost?

In a perfect world, the selection of a volunteer activity for an employee may not be initiated by an employer. But, sometimes, a newly promoted manager is a perfect fit to help fill a board position as a senior colleague cycles off that board due to term limits or other commitments. Or, a professional with a particular philanthropic interest may benefit from an introduction to a chosen non-profit by someone else who is active within a company.

There is no doubt that serving in a leadership position builds reputation and expands one’s networking arena. It shows an intention to give back and become part of the fabric of the communities where we work and live. Ultimately, community service – whether in the trenches for Habitat for Humanity or in the boardroom of the local community mental health center — often leads to strong bonds and shared passion, which is what business-building is all about.

Certainly, reaping business-building rewards from charitable involvement is a positive outcome of volunteer contributions of time and energy. But, what happens when business-building is the primary motivation? Where does exploiting newfound charitable relationships for personal gain fit on one’s moral compass?

Morally, it seems distasteful to spend time helping a non-profit merely to expand your connections on LinkedIn or build your e-newsletter list. Certainly, there are instances where success-driven go-getters fill their plates with civic and charitable pursuits with the sole purpose of increasing name awareness. In the long run, whether in the local soup kitchen or an inner city literacy program, those with the self-serving intent are likely the biggest losers in the charitable equation.

The key for workers considering a volunteer activity is making sure those opportunities to give back are meaningful to the employee, not just all about business-building. I am always inspired when I go to a meeting at the Rhode Island Foundation where a favorite Margaret Mead quote is mounted in a focal spot on the landing between the first and second floor: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” In most instances, getting a chance to change the world is, personally, life-changing as well.


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