There is no question that philanthropic involvement can be both enriching and beneficial to recipients and benefactors alike. By reaching out to a charitable cause, a business leader can expand his or her presence in the community by forging vital new relationships — all while raising awareness for an issue or bringing attention to an individual or entity in need. Now, perhaps more than ever, businesses have shifted paradigms to include a blend of profit and societal impact.
Still, however, it takes a fair amount of organization and tact to successfully balance business ownership with philanthropy. Speaking from experience in my own philanthropic involvement with UE.co, both endeavors must be handled with care so that they may co-exist in a constructive, successful manner.
It is crucial to have a plan when venturing into business philanthropy; this is common knowledge. Still, though, fallout from ill preparation is an unfortunate commonality, and depending on its severity, it can lead to misconceptions and poor representations that can subsequently create backlash from the public. An aged, yet enduringly relevant observation is that there are two types of philanthropic failure: constructive ones and unconstructive ones. The former refers to failures providing clear evidence as to what went wrong, while the latter results from an inability to “inform future practice.”
By studying high-profile instances of constructive philanthropic failure, we can extract a number of important lessons:
- One must have a strong, or at least working, knowledge his or her chosen cause — not to mention passion. If you truly care about housing the homeless, for example, do not focus on another cause simply because it is convenient or trendy.
- The aforementioned point in mind, a philanthropic initiative should not be driven by marketing performance and public image alone; this is immoral and stands as the antithesis of genuine philanthropy.
- At the same time, a lack of proper knowledge can lead to a breakdown in your philanthropy’s effectiveness, and it can quickly lead to additional problems that knock the wheels of the entire process despite your best intentions.
Build lasting relationships
Most successful charitable partnerships yield the potential for a continued working relationship. This longevity can be instrumental in ensuring the success of future initiatives, which in turn can also make the ownership/philanthropy balancing act easier to approach. A philanthropic relationship allows both participating parties to learn about each other in a different way, which can lead to longer standing interaction as a result of mutual loyalty.
Building this trust and intimacy not only aids in the preservation of the cause in question, it can also strengthen employee engagement, build up the brand of both the business and the philanthropic recipient, and ultimately foster a stronger sense of community and cohesion.