Growing Good: Philanthropy Grows Your Network, Your Skills and Your Business

Are you looking for another option to add to your ongoing marketing and branding campaign, one that is neither content nor traditional marketing and yet has the potential to greatly enhance your professional network, increase your opportunities to acquire new clients and referrals and even allow you to enhance your skill set?  Add philanthropy to your marketing campaign, as expressed by volunteerism, corporate social responsibility, sponsorships and donations and watch your sales grow!

Corporate social responsibility is now considered a best practice and there is a growing expectation that business and civic leaders, in particular, will “give back” and make a contribution to their community.

When Freelance consultants and leaders of for-profit organizations large and small, participate in philanthropy, it is a carefully evaluated business decision that’s part of a long-term personal branding and marketing campaign.  Just because your payroll is small doesn’t mean that philanthropy will not deliver significant ROI to your brand and business.  The selection of an organization to support will be strategic.

The first guideline is that you affiliate with organizations that have a mission you can support.  Second, the organization should operate and be headquartered locally, to support your objective of  having an impact among the movers and shakers in your business community, people who could become your customers or referral sources.

Third, if possible, aim to lend your pro bono support to an organization that somehow is connected to your product or service, or will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise or strengthen skills you’d like to build.  Volunteering can provide avenues for professional development, as you take part in projects and committee work that allow you to stretch and acquire additional competencies.

For example, if your financial management skills are weak, merely listening to finance reports and discussions around them at board meetings can be instructive.  Finance Committees even at small not-for-profits are often headed by very astute professionals.

Getting started

Becoming a sponsor of a local charity event, from the Boy Scouts to an educational or skills development center, is an effective, possibly low-cost and minimal commitment method to get an inside look at an organization that interests you.   A business card size ad in a fundraising event program book is a useful entrée and might cost as little as $200.  Your ad will not hurt your marketing strategy and will be tax-deductible, as well.

Alternatively, you can take the sweat-equity route and volunteer your time and labor as an event day helper at a fundraising program.  This strategy will allow you to attend the event and observe how the leadership interacts with its largest and most devout supporters.  A board or event committee member will be appointed to supervise the volunteers, so  you will be able to meet an insider and ask a few questions, along with getting a sense of the working style of the leaders (a very important consideration, BTW).

Speaking of sweat, you might decide to run, walk, bike, swim, or play golf or tennis in an athletic event sponsored by your chosen not-for-profit and ask friends and colleagues to sponsor you and help you donate to the organization.  All gifts will be tax-deductible. Plus, you’ll have lots of networking opportunities and a good time.

Finally, if you can muster a larger philanthropy budget, you can simply call the organization, express your interest in its mission and ask to visit and take a tour.  The Executive Director or another senior-level staff or board member will be happy to oblige.  You may be recruited on the spot to join a committee, as a pathway to an invitation to join the Board.  Be advised that there may be an expected annual donation of perhaps $500 or more.

Build relationships

Your experiences in charity event participation or sponsorships, or in board or committee service, will over time bring you into contact with many people.  Meeting C-Suite professionals during your volunteer activities breaks down barriers and has the potential to facilitate building relationships with VIPs who will see you in action as you perform board or committee work.

If you need a well-placed reference, it will likely be granted and  you may receive a referral or two as well, which would help your client list.  You might even get so lucky as to find a well-connected sponsor who will champion you and your work and help you to grow your business (or career).

Publicize your philanthropy

Let current and prospective customers know about your philanthropic activities.  In your curriculum vitae, bio, website and LinkedIn page, make note of your philanthropy, especially if you’ve joined a board or become an annual sponsor of, or participant at, a charitable event.  In a 2013 study Cone Communications, a Boston-based PR and marketing firm and Echo Global Logistics, a provider of transportation and supply chain management systems headquartered in Chicago, found that 82% of B2B and B2C purchasers preferred to do business with organizations that practiced corporate social responsibility and 91% of responders said they would switch brands to one that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality.

I leave you with this: Luke Weil, founder of Andina Acquisition, which invests in companies in the Andean region of South America, encourages us to give without expecting anything in return. Your generosity and selflessness generate good Karma and positive energy and the spiritual benefits will do wonders for your psyche.  Pay it forward.

Thanks for reading,


Image: Woman Giving Alms (date unknown, private collection), by Janos Thorma (Hungary, 1870 – 1937)


Notes on Networking

I’ve been thinking about networking lately.  Last week,  I had a great meeting with a young lady I met maybe 5 years ago,  when I revived a volunteer relationship with her organization.  I found the volunteer activity personally rewarding and I took it seriously.  I sharpened a seldom-used skill that I find highly desirable and I saw to it that my work met or exceeded expectations.  Scheduling prevented me from donating services for a couple of years,  but I always responded to her outreach. When she asked to pick my brain about a program-related matter,  which turned into a request for a face-to-face,  I was happy to say yes.

Little did I know that the volunteer service,  that is pro bono consulting work,  will now pay a stipend.  There is also an effort to grow the program.  The organization has had trouble selling to the new target market and I was happy to suggest some talking points that should produce results.  She took lots of notes.  Sometime over the next few months,  I expect that I will be invited to provide more pro bono work,  this time with a very helpful stipend and a chance to gain access to individuals that I would like to add to my client list.

What’s the moral of this networking story? One,  strategic volunteering can pay dividends.  Two,  selectively network at both ends the organization chart.  Don’t assume that lower ranking people are never in a position to help you.  This young lady was the program coordinator,  not a decision-maker and she’s half my age.  Nevertheless,  I treated her with respect and always enjoyed working with her.  When asked,  I offered to give her some much-needed insights,  without knowing that she is now in a position to help me make money.

Of course,  we all dream of meeting a powerful person who will miraculously agree to become our sponsor and shepherd us into a fabulous career.  That happens for some people,  but it has yet to happen to me.  For example,  for more than a decade I regularly attended Mass and sat at coffee hour with a very wealthy and well-connected lady who frequently discussed the professional success she had had before her retirement.

The lady was well aware of my need for clients and yet she never lifted a finger to help.  She who had never walked through a door that was not opened for her,  deliberately withheld from me.  Yet,  she never failed to enlist my help with her Sunday amusement—the New York Times crossword puzzle.  It is interesting,  because she sought me out for conversation and volunteered information about her career and connections.  I should have been golden.  Oh, well.

But how does one network successfully at the top of the organizational chart?  As detailed above,  interacting with someone who is inclined to respect you is rule #1.  Remaining aware of the difference in power and status is rule #2.  Understanding how you can be a valuable asset to an individual who has many resources and most likely doesn’t need anything from you is rule #3 and effectively communicating to Mr. or Ms. High-and-Mighty whatever value proposition that you think might be appreciated is rule #4.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for networking up the food chain,  but despite my fruitless experience,  which I will say is unusual,  networking with the higher-ups is best done at volunteer board meetings,  houses of worship,  at the fitness center,  or in other non-work related venues.  There are many people tugging at the sleeves of the well-connected.  It’s probably best to get to know them in a social situation that facilitates participating in a shared experience that can lead to organic relationship-building.

Thanks for reading,