Fundraising Q/A: What advice can you offer an entrepreneur on how to be philanthropic from the beginning?

As an entrepreneur, you will be building and leading an enterprise. That gives you an opportunity – if not a responsibility – to encourage all members of the organization to contribute to the community and broader society. That can take a number of forms:

  • Personally modeling philanthropic behavior can send a powerful message to colleagues and employees.
  • Offering opportunities for employees to do community service or offering matching gifts to designated causes can be motivating and make employees feel good about the company they work for.
  • Sending a clear message about company values including sustainable business practices and corporate social responsibility is essential.

Some entrepreneurs go a step further. I am reminded of one investment firm whose founder feels that profits are for more than making partners wealthy. A portion is allocated to a fund that is used strategically to attack what are considered to be the most urgent social problems in the country.

Social enterprise offers another way of thinking about philanthropy, broadly defined as making a positive change in the world. It is a rapidly evolving field where for-profit and nonprofit ventures take entrepreneurial approaches to solving social challenges. You can think of it as three main streams:

  • Nonprofit strategy and governance, which focuses on improving the performance of non-profit organizations across all sectors.
  • Business for social impact, such as business models aimed at serving lower-income markets for a more equitable world; or innovative products and services for addressing environmental issues.
  • Financial resources for social change, a hybrid vision for philanthropy that is being practiced under a variety of banners including impact investing, social investment and venture philanthropy.

Finally, you can be entrepreneurial in your personal efforts to make the world a better place. Be innovative in pursuing opportunities to support your chosen cause. Consider what you can offer, in the way of time, talent, treasure and networks. Partner with others to assemble the resources needed for success. Start now, learn as you go, and enjoy the satisfaction of making a difference.

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