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Getting Into Giving: Philanthropy for Entrepreneurs

Many a business has been started with a central goal: making the owner a lot of money. But more and more businesses these days are learning that what they give is almost as important as what they receive.

Part of this shift is generational. Millennials are more likely than baby boomers or members of Generation X to say that supporting businesses that give back to society matters to them, one 2016 poll found. And two-thirds of millennials in the poll were more likely to want to work at a company that engaged in philanthropic giving than one that did not.

But while philanthropy is an increasing priority, how can entrepreneurs and startups give while facing barebones budgets and limited resources?

We reached out to Beverly Brooks Thompson, who led the Forever LSU campaign to one of the most successful fundraising efforts in university history, raising more than $798 million. She also worked for the consulting firm Pursuant Ketchum and as chief development officer of Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge before starting her own consulting business in 2017.

Here are Brooks Thompson’s strategies for entrepreneurs and small companies on how to start giving back to your community while making sure you maximize the impact of your giving.

Think Outside the (Cash) Box

Most people think of donating money when it comes to philanthropy, but Brooks Thompson says there’s many more options to consider than just cash.

“I encourage people to think about how they can say yes in a different way,” she says. For example, you could donate your expertise, your resources, your time — and employees’ time — or your influence and reputation to support causes you believe in.

She says entrepreneurs should start by asking “How would I like to spend my time, my money, my resources or my influence that's meaningful to me?”

Entrepreneurs, she says, are often extraordinarily good at a few things. You can give to causes you care about by thinking about how you can use those talents and abilities to support them.

For example, you could serve on the board of an organization or nonprofit or offer the use of company resources — boardrooms, training or employee time — to support a cause you value.

Entrepreneurs also tend to underutilize their influence and reputation as part of their giving strategy. Can you use your influence to help a cause? Are you willing to pick up the phone and call someone on an organization's behalf? Is this a nonprofit that you'll go vouch for? Those kinds of actions can be an incredibly valuable form of giving that maximizes the benefit to the nonprofit.

Concentrate Your Giving

Brooks Thompson says it all comes down to values: What do you value? How would you like to spend your money? Your time?

Thinking about your vision for how to make the world a better place is a good starting point for creating a giving program that makes sense for you and your company, she says. What are you passionate about? Your giving should reflect that.

Working with a philanthropic consultant can be helpful for entrepreneurs and small companies who are struggling with how to give effectively, she says. “We can give them strategies and plans that make sense for them so that they are making those donations and/or engaging their employees in ways that also make sense for them from a business perspective,” Brooks Thompson says.

Take the example of a commercial construction firm, she says. “They called us and said, ‘We're bleeding money. This has got to stop.’”

But to maximize the impact of its giving, the firm needed to focus on the causes that were important to it. Choose your top three initiatives, Brooks Thompson advises. For her client, it was education, health care and kids’ sports. It focused its giving in those areas and eliminated everything else.

And don’t be afraid to start small. You might not be able to donate an estate or make an endowment, but you could sponsor an event. Targeted giving focused on the causes you value helps make your giving, whatever the level, more impactful, she says.

Make It a Team Effort

Entrepreneurs and small companies can also maximize the impact of their giving by getting employees involved. Creating programs that give them a say in the causes your company supports creates a culture of philanthropy at your organization and helps you attract and retain employees who share your values.

“Companies can set up a plan where they establish their values and interests and explain what types of causes they would be willing to give money to,” Brooks Thompson says.

Employers also can offer grants to their employees — for example, offering to match a portion of whatever an employee donates to a cause. “You make a hero out of your employees that way. So now Jenny who works in accounting can sponsor her kid's baseball team. She can write a $500 check, and the company will match the $500 donation. It incentivizes philanthropy within the company,” Brooks Thompson says.

When it comes to thinking strategically about giving, she says, “I tell business owners you're not going to spend less money; you're just going to feel a whole lot better about the money you spend.”

Stephen Loy