By Scott Petinga
Entrepreneurs are starting to think about philanthropy in a new way. It used to be that making a big donation and going on your merry way was enough. But that old style of hit-and-run philanthropy is no longer sufficient. The reality is that dropping a load of money on a problem is not going to change things — not permanently. It might help in the short term, but what do you do when the money runs out? It’s a lot like treating symptoms without addressing the underlying cause.
Socialpreneurship (entrepreneurial philanthropy) should be a win-win for both the entrepreneur and the recipients. The only way for philanthropy to have any real meaning or lasting effect is by making it socially responsible and sustainable. It’s one thing to affect the world with brilliant, innovative entrepreneurial ideas. But it’s another to change the world for the better through philanthropy.
Socialpreneurs do both. They use their wealth, influence and ingenuity to make a real difference; and these days, they run it like a business. Take Warren Buffet for example. The legendary investor and chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway founded The Giving Pledge with Bill and Melinda Gates, an open invitation to the world’s wealthiest families and individuals to donate the bulk of their wealth to any charitable and philanthropic organizations, either during their lifetime or after their death. This effort has provided worldwide charitable relief (in the billions of dollars) and continues to do so. Buffet believes in it, he continues to campaign for it, and he sustains it through the way he runs the organization.
What is your definition of philanthropy? For me, it certainly doesn’t mean a handout. Philanthropy comes in many shapes and sizes, but no matter what, it is something that improves lives, community, society and business. Yes, business. Philanthropy is good for business. Before you can begin becoming a socialpreneur, you must be clear on what that means to you. Whether that’s providing clean drinking water for the millions who don’t have it, or providing financial assistance for those battling cancer, knowing what philanthropy looks like for you is the first step.
Let’s face it. There are a lot of worthy causes in the world. There’s a lot that needs changing. However, deciding on a focus for your philanthropy usually isn’t that difficult. We all have causes that are close to our hearts. As a cancer survivor, cancer research just happens to be one of mine. That’s why I’ve chosen to partner with USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. I’m passionate about finding better ways to diagnose, treat and care for testicular cancer patients. And passion is a big part of what drives us to choose a particular cause.
Solve a Problem
No matter what your cause is, philanthropy is about change. If you see something you want to change, change it. That is the essence of being a socialpreneur. The concept of going your own way and doing your own thing shouldn’t cease in the philanthropic world. The problem is, most people don’t do it because it bucks tradition and goes against the grain, and frankly, it scares most people. The key is to look at each task for the opportunities they present. Sure, there may be a “perfectly fine” or traditional way of doing something to achieve a good result. But when you have a better approach or process in mind that can achieve an even more desirable outcome, it may just be time to go rogue. In today’s cutthroat culture, originality is perhaps your greatest gift. Use it.
Think Like an Investor
If you’re planning on investing your money, you’re planning on seeing a return on your investment. Philanthropy is no different. View it like you would any other business endeavor. It needs to be not only sustainable; it needs to build and be profitable. There needs to be a plan, an infrastructure, and above all, a growth model. So many nonprofits never realize year-over-year growth because they’re content with just sustaining it. What’s worth doing is worth doing well. Why would you treat philanthropy any different? If anything, it needs to be treated more shrewdly than any business venture you participate in because the product you’re trying to create impacts so much more than just a profit.
Understand What Opportunities Can Add to Your Bottom Line
While doing good is a reward by itself, it can also increase your brand, get you in front of new networks that can help expand your business. In recent years, it can also provide a new way to think about doing good and generating an actual financial return. Scott Arnell, the founding partner of Geneva Capital, is leading new efforts to have individuals invest socially responsibly. This is putting money into socially responsible companies and earning an ROI. According to Scott, socially responsible funds are not just about helping the planet; these funds are more likely to provide long-term, stable returns because of the affinity the customer base has for these initiatives.
Don’t Be Afraid
As a former Marine, I learned something very important: no one ever drowned in sweat. Don’t be afraid to work hard and get your hands dirty. Today’s entrepreneurial philanthropist has to be socially responsible. You can’t do that from the sidelines. Get directly involved. Last September, I spent the night outside without so much as a sleeping bag to highlight the plight of homeless youth during the Night Out for YouthLink in the Twin Cities. I can tell you, I will never forget that experience. It truly brings home the gravity of what these kids face on a daily basis.
Because the stakes for a philanthropic endeavor are so high, you might be tempted to play it safe. Don’t. That’s not how you got to where you are today. Take risks. Break rules. If it doesn’t work, pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and move on. Be just as fearless in your entrepreneurial philanthropy as you would be in any other entrepreneurial endeavor. Those risks will pay off. And when they do, you’ll know you’re doing the right thing.
Scott Petinga (www.scottpetinga.com) is Chairman and CEO of The Scott Petinga Group, a pioneer in turning data into profits and was recently was a semi-finalist for Entrepreneur Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year.