Engaged philanthropy is a never ending journey of learning how best to make a positive impact in the organizations we serve. I have learned some important lessons along the way. [more]
I’ve spent the four years since I sold my first business searching for the right way to engage in service to the poor. It’s been a journey. I’ve been in service all my life, due to the example my mother and father gave, but this well-funded, full-time gig has perplexed me at times.
Like many “engaged philanthropists” (the current term in vogue), I could not be satisfied sending checks and being honored as the “person of the year”. And since that’s still the road less travelled, I’ve made a ton of painful errors.
And so it seems as an introduction to our site, I’ll share a few tips I’m learning along the way:
- Beware the fakers: Like all newer businesses I’ve grown up with (direct marketing and database marketing among them) a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. Those who may appear to be walking the walk are often just talking the talk. And many of them charge you for the privilege of hearing them.
Many teachers of social enterprise, including myself early-on, unwisely sell the idea that non-profits can fix their revenue problems by starting businesses.
Thankfully, I ran into two good teachers in Rick Aubry and Nancy Osgood who showed me that actually very few non-profits should invest in developing earned income streams. And even the few who do invest should do so only after a long, careful developmental cycle.
- Give from your surplus: I know, I read the bible too and it says we should give until it hurts. The problem with that idea is that it becomes the source of a lot of piety and judgment.
There’s no end to my friends who are giving more than they should. And the result in many cases is latent anger and frustration when things don’t go as (they) planned. These martyrs often hurt others as much as they hurt themselves, which is sad since their intentions are usually good.
- Small gifts – of time and treasure – count just as much as big ones: Mother Theresa said it best – “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
I once watched an 85 year old nun moving quietly from student to student in a tutoring session in a very bad neighborhood. In one case she was speaking softly and patiently to a man working on his GED. In another she was lovingly scolding a 12 year old who was having a hard time focusing because he didn’t like his math lesson.
Later, I asked her why she was working so hard when she could be at the retirement village down the street. She said “it’s their only way out”. She of course meant that education is the only road out of poverty – this neighborhood.
My sister, Mary, has never had an extra cent to share with others. But she’s my model of giving because she gives time which she has in greater quantity. She’s worked thousands of hours at her church and school to help them put on fund raisers. And the most interesting part to me is that she always, and I mean always, does it with a smile and lots of energy. Her time is what she can give and give gladly.
- Give gladly: The best teacher I ever had in service was the late Father Norm Smith who first took me into the toughest part of the city 13 years ago. When I started taking myself and my work too seriously, Norm would always sit me down and say, “Tim, it’s not enough to give; we must give gladly”.
What Norm meant was the non-profit world is already swarmed with people who are giving to get to heaven or to exercise power that they cannot achieve in their work world. What a shame since bad attitudes drive away new volunteers and donors who see what’s going on and avoid it.
To paraphrase an old line from my Mom: “if you can’t give gladly, don’t bother giving”.
- Celebrate your mistakes and forgive easily: The non-profit world by tradition is an inefficient and frustrating world. Coming directly from a fully controlled corporate environment, my mistakes are frequent and in some cases, embarrassing.
I try to remember that mistakes are my teachers. I must make them, accept them and then get over them. I will go farther faster forgiving and forgetting than I will judging myself or others I’m working with.
So, welcome to our website. The Business of Good exists only to share our story in (hopefully) interesting and engaging ways.
If you see a cause we support that you wish to back, please let them know.
If you want to do your own thing, let us know and we’ll support your effort in any way we can.
If you are just here to occupy some time and learn, that’s good too. Enjoy.
Because at the Business of Good Foundation, we’re proud to say we’re only learning too. The best non-profit leaders, in fact, are just like the best business leaders I’ve known over the years. They’re humble enough to know they’ve still got a lot to learn.
And while you’re deciding how you wish to engage, keep these little rules of engagement in mind.
Give gladly from your surplus, start small and beware of the fakers.