Whether its John D. Rockefeller or Bill Gates, it is not uncommon to see successful business people donate their resources to various causes, but there isn’t one single thing that compels them to do so.
As Russ Alan Prince and Karen Maru note in their book The Seven Faces of Philanthropy: A New Approach to Cultivating Major Donors people of all creeds, personalities and walks of life make donations, and their reasons for doing so are as different as the causes they give to.
The reasons range from religious obligation or as part of religious beliefs, to social reasons and others like altruism, gratitude, as an “investment” in a cause (e.g the environment), or because of family tradition. There are also those whose giving is borne out of vanity or guilt, and those who give out of the belief that they are experts at solving the world’s problems.
It seems however, that the most common and most powerful reason why successful people donate their time and money is the desire to leave a legacy, if this article by the Wall Street Journal is anything to go by.
John Caudwell, the British Telco billionaire affirms this. Caudwell describes legacy as being what is written on the tombstone of the successful business person. This reason resonates with a lot of successful business people, as they want to create a culture of charitable giving and donation not just with their children, but with the group of people who look up to them.
Regardless of the reasons why successful business people give back to society, their giving does have an impact and such impact ranges from personal benefits to business and societal benefits.
The benefits of giving
Personal reward: In the Guardian interview referenced above, Caudwell talks about the personal reward that comes from giving. While business in itself is rewarding, that reward is nothing compared to the soul-touching feeling of achievement that comes from seeing you have made a difference through your giving, he said. In order words, the giver gets a real, tangible feeling of reward when they give.
Business benefits: The impact a business makes in terms of the number of jobs created and the amount of taxes paid affect the image of the business negatively or positively. Similarly, the donations made by a business-owner not only affect his image, but also reflect positively on the image of the company. When a bakery owner donates towards developing sports facilities in his neighborhood, the members of the community who get to use the facilities not only become more favorably disposed towards the donor, but to the business he owns.
This is especially true when people outside the business see the business owner and the business as one entity – which is common with small to medium size businesses. As such a business would be affected by the donation of its owner in the short term, the business would also be affected by the donation in the longer term, even when the owner is no longer in the picture.
Employee motivation: When business owners publicly donate to charitable causes, they motivate a lot of people who look up to them to follow in their footsteps. A lot of small and medium business owners are usually role models in their communities, and giving back to the society is usually an expected trait since they are considered to be leaders.
When business leaders give back to the society, they unconsciously motivate their staff to have stronger emotional connections to the company. What this does to the staff is that they begin to feel as if the business is dedicated to a higher cause and their input in the company impacts the society at large. They then feel compelled to give more to the growth of the business, and give more to the society in their own individual lives – following the footsteps of their bosses.
In the final analysis, when business people give, they not only benefit society, they also derive personal and business satisfaction from such giving. That, in my opinion, is a win‑win‑win!