How will your business give back this year?

   “Philanthropy” is an easy word to toss around at your business.
   It feels good just to discuss it — almost like you’ve already done something to help the community, even when you haven’t.
   Too often, a business’s philanthropic efforts get stuck in the “talking” stage and never reach the “actualization” stage, when things actually start getting done. It’s very easy to do some chatting, let some time go by, and then shelve any effort until “next year.” Before you know it, five years have gone by.
   So here we are, quickly approaching the holidays, perhaps the easiest time of the year to get started on a business-wide philanthropic effort, if for no other reason than because so many other companies around the city are doing the same thing. It’s a time of year when we all traditionally give something back, a fact which could provide just enough additional impetus to get the ball rolling at your business, if it isn’t doing so already.
   Between Krista Grunhurd’s story in the BBJ last month (page C1) about how to decide to spend your philanthropic dollars, and former Whatcom Community Foundation head honcho Don Drake’s monthly column on the nuts and bolts of corporate giving, the average BBJ reader is pretty educated at this point.
   If you’re still looking for ideas, here’s a few that might help:

Invent your own philanthropy — go solo

   If you don’t feel like hitching your wagon to somebody else’s plow horse, or feel like there’s a need that is going unaddressed in the community, start your own corporate philanthropic effort to support it.
   The benefits of taking the bull by the horns (sorry, two horse/bull metaphors in one section is really too much) and starting something new is that you are in charge. You set the priorities, the goals, and handle the decision-making yourself.
   The bad news is that you set the priorities, the goals, and handle the decision-making yourself — without a partner to help, it will all fall on you.
   Starting something new, however, can get your effort some attention because it is new that it might otherwise not get — but only if it is a good idea and you are working all angles of the marketing and outreach facets of the plan well.

Invent your own philanthropy — partner up

   This is a great option if you want to start something new, but with an already existing partner or nonprofit.
   The BBJ’s Victory Gardens Against Hunger campaign is a good example of this; a new program, yes, but in conjunction with the Bellingham Food Bank. The Food Bank is always in short supply of fresh vegetables, a fact which I thought the gardening-lovingresidents of Bellingham could get behind. They did — our first-year goal was 10,000 pounds of fresh produce, and at last count, we topped 13,000 pounds at the end of October.
   Again, as much as you want of this effort can be put in your hands — but you also have the good folks at your partner agency or business to rely on for ideas, assistance, and help in dividing up any costs associated with the plan.
   Odds are, they are very very busy (there aren’t enough hours in the day for most nonprofits I’ve ever been associated with) and while they will help you when needed, are ecstatic if you are able to take the ball and run with it yourself.
   Be careful when picking a partner, if it’s another business. Make sure the other business owner(s) knows how much work is going to go into the effort; make sure you agree and discuss all goals together and agree on them — there’s nothing worse than being handed the plunger by the person leaving the bathroom; you didn’t deserve the work, and you’re left cleaning up all the mess.

Board work

   Every local nonprofit is run by a board of directors of some kind, folks just like you from the community who are giving their time (sweat equity) to help run these organizations.
   It’s incredibly valuable and important work, and the bonus is that you don’t have to invent the wheel yourself. Hopefully the wheel (and three of its counterparts) are all in place and the nonprofit is chugging along and just needs some new blood, new faces, and new ideas. That’s where you come in.
   Some things to be aware of:
   • When you join a board of directors, you often become a part of the group legally responsible for running the organization.
   It’s serious business. A major foulup on your watch could result in legal issues — very, very, very rare, but it has happened. Just do your job, and this will never happen. Absentee boards are most often the objects of this type of action.
   • Many boards expect their members to contribute directly (i.e., cash) to the organization each year, in addition to the sweat equity you are putting into the group.
This may or may not be a problem for you — but it is a fair question to ask when you are interviewing for the board position.

Committee work

   A step down the ladder from the responsibilities of boards of directors is committee work.
   Committees are the worker bees of the nonprofit heirarchy, and they are where the majority of the real work behind the scenes gets accomplished.
There are always committees around to suit your talents.
   Can you write a wicked-good press release? Few nonprofits go without a marketing and outreach committee, which would be perfect for you.
   Know a million people in Bellingham, lived here forever? You’d be perfect for the fundraising efforts every nonprofit has to do to survive. And rest assured, any board work you do will involve fundraising. you can’t avoid it, you can’t just do other stuff.
   Trust me, I’ve tried.
   Embrace the zen of fundraising, because if you’re going to volunteer, you really don’t have any other choice — and if you like doing this work, and are good at it, you’re worth your weight in gold to any nonprofit.
   Regardless of which choice you make, what is important is that you get out and give back. Make this city a better place with your own two hands. Make it a better place not only for your kids, but for everyone else.
   If you don’t, who will?

John Thompson is publisher and editor of The Bellingham Business Journal. He can be reached by calling 647-8805, or via e-mail at



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