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updated: 12/13/2017 9:34 AM

The art of connecting your philanthropic heart and your business brain

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  • Karen Kelly

    Karen Kelly


Serving your community, earning a decent living and strengthening bonds with your staff and customers are not three separate tasks. Blending your gratitude and giving heart with your business sense and leadership skills is a carefully crafted braid that will thrive and provide consistent benefits. A braid can be likened to a rope which is fortified in strength from being woven or twisted into shape.

Start with your heart

You inspire others and already make a difference in your community. You do good deeds and leading by example. You are a connector that builds trust, unity and the feeling of pride and satisfaction you get when selflessly helping those in need.

Get the most bang for your buck:

Choosing charities that complement your company's time, talent and treasure is partially instinctual and partially communal. Identify your personal desired results and the return on investment; trust your gut. Ask yourself what is important to you; perhaps it is starting a foundation, doing a benefit for someone or something in your community that is in dire need or maybe it is a food drive that you do quarterly at hosted events?

Seek residual benefits:

Look for donation matching opportunities and tax benefit and sponsorship placement. Know the ratio of funds raised going directly to the charity and how money raised will be spent.

Poll your staff, customer, friends, family and civic leaders:

Through ballot entry or by email, privately ask your staff, your customers, your colleagues and pillars of the community what charities' acts of philanthropy are important to them and why. You will learn that some, for example, have lost loved ones to suicide or breast cancer so that is where they feel most in tuned to giving, volunteering and fundraising. Ask them what role they see themselves committing to and why they feel they can make a positive impact.

Ask for feedback and trust your gut instinct:

Make a list of all suggestions and show the lists to your colleagues, staff, friends and family and get their opinions. You will receive valuable input from people outside of your circle of employees and customers. Next, evaluate the opinions of others and the instinctive (gut) feelings you received while narrowing down your list. Write the pros and cons of each item on your list carefully considering the amount of time and energy they will require. Will you choose revolving philanthropy where the efforts and benefits will help different organizations at different times or will you have one solid focused charity? It is now time for you to choose between two and 10 possible charities and either roll it out to your staff for a vote or decide yourself.

Your role is to motivate and inspire others:

Now that you have chosen your community service and philanthropic focus and feel great about it, it is time to use your leadership and coaching skills to determine who will be your key players and who will be their support players. This is a group effort so do not try to manage everything rather take a backseat to see who steps up to carry your company's torch. Your role at this point is two-pronged. First, praise and motivate your staff and your customers bringing attention to all of the goodwill that they are doing. Second, share your amazing victories to motivate and inspire others.

Your conscience, your heart and your brain make a powerful braid as do your customers, your staff and yourself. Think about it. When someone you care about is in need of help wouldn't you rather throw them a braided rope than three separate strings?

• Karen Kelly is the president and problem solver at ITEX in Chicagoland, a barter network that supports small businesses throughout North America. Contact her at or