Power in Philanthropy: Making an Impact Outside Your Office

Recently I was privileged to speak at the Women in Leadership Conference at Rice University organized by women MBA leaders. My panel’s topic was power in philanthropy and how to make an impact in your community and your business.

Our discussion reminded me of what Herman Melville said about connections:

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.

Self-discovery: personal passions?

My volunteer commitments have taught me that I need to have a passion for a cause or activity. Throughout my career I have always encouraged my team to start with causes close to their hearts. This might be community organizations, school volunteer groups, professional associations or special events.

At PKF Texas, for example, a number of employees had a personal interest in supporting heart disease education, prevention and cures. So we enlisted a multigenerational company team to participate in a fundraising walk for the local chapter of the American Heart Association. We built excitement for the program with competitions and prizes, and that excitement spilled over into our interactions with clients and the community.

Do your own due diligence in your marketplace

Discovering needs in your community is an important part of your strategy. Talk to the leaders of organizations in your community to learn what gaps exist.

Questions to guide your research:

  • Are volunteers scarce?
  • Are leadership positions going unfilled?
  • Do they seek major donors for a capital campaign?
  • Do they need knowledgeable speakers or trainers?
  • Are there opportunities to judge award programs or serve on advisory committees?
  • Do they need a place to hold board meetings or programs?
  • Might they benefit from an introduction to one of your clients?
  • And—this is very important—what are your competitors already doing?

Armed with this knowledge, look to your organization to uncover what the involvement strategy is and what needs to be a part of that strategy. Do a talent inventory and match the right personalities and passions to produce your best result. Keep in mind that the best strategy will serve community needs in a unique way that will set you and your company apart.

Showing up plus contributing equals  impact

Ideally, your company supports volunteer service as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. If it doesn’t, this can be your chance to take the lead. All it takes is one attentive person to connect a need with an opportunity.

You can become an ambassador for your firm whether you’ve been there one year or twenty. When you’re at any activity outside of the office, you can make it your job to represent your firm in a positive light. Be attentive to opportunities to serve, not sell. The ideal ambassador serves as a connector of people and resources.

Life Lesson Unpacked: When you make the most of opportunities to serve, you reap personal and professional rewards.

For a background on this blog, please see the Preface.