How to give like a billionaire …

[By Isabel Kelly]

You may not be as rich as a Rockefeller, but you and your company have a wealth of resources to apply to the world’s greatest social issues.

Marc Benioff, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, Sir Tom Hunter, Pierre Omidyar and of course David Rockefeller, are all part of The Giving Pledge, a group of the world’s wealthiest individuals and families who ‘dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy’.

While most of us would love to be able to give away millions of $/£/€/¥/₹ while living a billionaire lifestyle, we’re not in that league. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything.

Most people in business, whatever the size, have an issue they care about and something they can give, if only they knew how.

If you were lucky enough to have had a good start in life, or some lucky breaks along the way where someone picked you up and helped you, then how about doing that for someone else?

You can use your resources to ensure that more kids get access to a decent education and basic nutrition, that the homeless and poor get opportunities to improve their lives, or that the disadvantaged get the chance to work.

You may feel bombarded by the breadth and complexity of the world’s current crises, so the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are specifically aimed at companies as a tool to help you find a social impact focus that makes sense for your company (I’ve written about the Goals here).

Being a business that shows its heart and engages with its communities helps you to retain your best employees and to hire the smartest people who want more from their work than a monthly pay cheque – including those unfathomable millennials who are demanding purpose in their work life.

And now for the objection handling … you don’t need to wait until you’ve made your million, you don’t have to give cash, you don’t need to hire a full-time philanthropy employee, it doesn’t decrease your productivity or have a negative effect on sales (quite the opposite).

I was the 4th employee of Salesforce in the UK, hired by Marc Benioff in 2002 to build the Salesforce Foundation outside north America, which I did for over 12 years ultimately making it profitable and therefore self-sustaining.

That was testament to Marc Benioff’s generosity, even when the company was 300 people, with no profit and an early-stage product, he was acting on his passion for bringing philanthropy into the heart of business.

The 1/1/1 model he initiated gave 1% of pre-IPO equity to set up the Foundation and now gives 7 days of his people’s time and at least 1% of Salesforce product to support thousands of social change issues and organisations. He also gave two markets, nonprofit and education, to the Foundation to ensure its sustainability and to enable the donation of millions of dollars in grants.

Perhaps the only thing stopping you is that you don’t know where to start? There are people and consultancies who can help you devise a strategy and determine what resources to apply to your chosen social purpose.

And there are programs to join such as the Pledge 1% initiative launched by Salesforce, Atlassian and Rally with the ‘shared vision of every business around the globe integrating philanthropy into its corporate DNA’.

If you have a start-up, then Founders Pledge is a way of building in philanthropy at the outset by enabling ‘entrepreneurs to commit to donate 2% of their personal proceeds to a social cause of their choice, following an exit’.

Doing good and giving back may seem like a distraction when you’re building your pipeline or chasing sales, but look what Marc Benioff did … he didn’t get distracted, he built a $55bn dollar market cap company with philanthropy at its core because he believes it’s the right thing to do.  

There are many ways to make a positive impact on the world’s greatest issues, and be in no doubt that you’ve got resources – people, expertise, product or time – which can really make a difference to whatever cause you choose. You just need to get started … 

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