Turn your business into one that supports and engages the community

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Seeing businesses doing awesome things for their communities is AWESOME, and we should totally convince everyone to do it. So I always wonder why aren’t they giving back? Some just might not want to, some might feel they don’t have the resources, and some might be intimidated on how to start and need some help to get it going.

There is a lot of material out there on how to build successful CSR programs, but a lot of it can be daunting. If you have limited resources you might not feel like a long-term partnership with a charity might be possible due to financial or people power resources, but there are many ways besides that where you are given the opportunity to do good. In my last post I talked about ways companies are giving back. If you don’t have the financial resources, there are still opportunities for your business to engage.

Supporting the community as a business owner is hard work, so let’s figure out how to make it simple. Here are some basic things to consider when deciding what efforts to support and how:

  1. Start with “why” (if you haven’t read Simon Sinek’s book, do it) doesn’t just refer to your business being successful, it is a mindset that translates well to any situation. Keep why you are doing what you are doing at the forefront of everything. So when choosing a cause or charity to support, start with your why. Why is your company in existence and how does that relate? why do you want to give back? why are you passionate about certain causes? The best causes to support are ones that you, as an owner or manager, are personally connected to, or one that really resonates with the mission of your company. The closer it is to you, the easier it is to support.
  2. Determine resources that your company can give (time, money, in-kind donations, etc.). If you try to give before you know your limits, you can end up in bad shape. Figure out what you can give, and what value your business can add to the community. You have great assets, so determine what those are and how you can be of best use to the nonprofit.
  3. Assessing need is key to having the greatest impact. If you are choosing an organization to donate to, look into their financials and their strategic plan. Make sure what you can/are willing to offer is a good fit. You also want to be sure that you are attaching your name to a cause/organization that you are proud of and will happily stand by. Determine whether your plan is to stay local or expand. My vote is always for local!
  4. Managing partnerships is not as simple as writing a check or sponsoring a charitable event. There is more to it than that. Once you have determined what you can give and who you plan to give it to, creating a partnership with them is key to really contributing to the community. If you are a small business with limited resources, it might be the owner or a staff member who volunteers their time to build these relationships. Often times in large corporations, they will have a whole department or staff person dedicated just to CSR. Creating solid relationships will help both you and them in the long run. Don’t just give your money and run, work to understand their mission and how you can support it.
  5. Follow-through on what you commit to, for their sake and yours. Whether you know it or not, nonprofits you reach out to are depending on you. From the minute you commit to a donation, they have already factored that into their costs and allocated it to where it will be best put to use. A business never wants to get a bad rap because they promised things and didn’t deliver, especially when it is to a charitable cause that speaks to people. Word travels fast.

Turning your business into one that supports and engages the community can be simple, but should still be well-thought out and strategically done. If you are small (but mighty) and need some help, look to those large corporations that might have it down. If you are a big business, sometimes it’s good to look to the smaller fish and get back to your “why”, and support local efforts.

Check out CSRwire for news and report updates on CSR, and theguardian for other news on environmental CSR.


Social Responsibility around the world

Social-ChangeSocial Change Agents; people who act as catalysts for change.

This entire blog has been about the power people can have in the world, how to make a difference in your community, and thinking about things more intentionally as you do it, thus, being an effective change agent.

Being an agent of change looks different for everyone. Not everyone wants to have the same impact,  not everyone has same knowledge or skill sets and, not everyone lives in the same community to have the same affect. With all these differences, it is evident that there is no one criteria that everyone can use to measure if they are making a difference or not. Everyone has their own perceptions of the value they put into making change, and on the impact it is having.

In 2011, Walden University wanted to understand more about this idea of social responsibility in the world and did some research, they have continued every year since. In order to see peoples perceptions of the impact they have in positive social change, they surveyed adults in Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Jordan, Mexico, and the U.S., and compiled their findings in their 2014 Social Change Impact Report. To summarize, they found that adults across the globe, 84% on average, continue to feel that being personally involved in positive social change is important to them. Adults in Canada, the U.S, and Germany are countries ranking least likely to say it is important to them.

While it is important to know that people find this to be a key part of their lives, it also raises the question, what impact is it really having? So, Walden asked them what they thought. “Half of adults feel they are having a major or moderate impact on improving the lives of individuals in their community (53%, on average), creating a better world for everyone to live in (49%, on average), changing behaviors of others to improve people’s lives (53%, on average) and changing attitudes and beliefs of others to improve people’s lives (52%, on average).”

Social change, as I talked about in a previous post, really focuses on the root and systemic causes of the problem, and according to this survey, only 40% feel they are having a major or moderate impact on these systemic changes. Interestingly enough, 73% say it is extremely or very important that a persons involvement with positive social change contributes to long-term changes for peoples lives in the future.

So, how do we get there? If people think it should contribute to long-term, but the work they are doing is not impacting systemic issues that would make it long-term, what are we doing to change that? How are we working with communities and policies to make lasting change?


Making an impact and working towards sustainable change, as mentioned earlier, is different for everyone. The first step in being a change agent is really identifying the type of change you want to work towards, self-reflection. Once you have done that, why not have some fun and learn from people around the world that were used in this study. Walden University organized 6 different types of social change agents from their research.

Take the quiz- see what type you are!

  • The Ultracommitted Change-Maker
  • The Faith-Inspired Giver
  • The Socially Conscious Consumer
  • The Purposeful Participant
  • The Casual Contributor
  • The Social Change Spectator

“Passion helps you create the highest expression of your talent”

I recently went through the training to be a certified Echoing GreenWork on Purpose facilitator, and it was amazing! This workshop gave me a lot of tools that will help my work with college students in finding out what kind of impact they want to make, and also helped give me a little perspective of my own.

The first thing we did was identify what mattered to us. For me, that was passion. For others, it was relationships, trust, equity, family; they were all different. Since no one can identify it for you, reflecting on what matters to you is really the first step to figure out the impact you want to have on the world. Listening and learning from others can put into perspective just how different everyone is, and how you can collaborate with others for transformative action.

Work on purpose

The driving force behind Work on Purpose came from their in-depth interviews with their fellows about the experiences they had when identifying and pursing their high-impact careers. They all had the same thing in common- they wanted to find what was right for them, and what was good for the world. Using this, Echoing Green created the 10 Principles of Work on Purpose. These principles were developed from fellows who know a thing or two about positively contributing to good in the world, and have learned from experience (and from what I can only imagine are many failures along the way).  I encourage you to go to their website to read about all ten of them more in-depth, but the 10 are listed below.

10 Principles:

  1. Mine Your Past
  2. Know what you’ve got- Know what you need
  3. Heart + Head = Hustle
  4. ______ is What Matters
  5. Act on Moments of Obligation
  6. Take Perspective…Someone Else’s
  7. Fear Means Go
  8. Gall to Think Big
  9. Bold Immersion
  10. Think Like an Entrepreneur

To me, the one that resonates the most is “Take Perspective…Someone Else’s”. Since one of my goals in life is to see as much of the world as possible, it is important for me to gain perspective about other peoples thinking, way of life, and culture. Attempting to see something from another perspective and empathize is a hard thing to do, and the more you try to do it, the better you will be at it. Work on Purpose defines it to “Cultivate a deep curiosity about the world and actively seek to understand other populations, perspectives, models and disciplines.”

Part of knowing how to be a good facilitator is going through the motions yourself first, and that is what we did. We all participated in the Heart + Head = Hustle workshop. I identified what deeply moved me, what issues I care about, what I value, and what is truly important to me. On the flip side we wrote down the skills, strengths, knowledge & expertise, and talents we have. It is always a toss up for everyone as to which one is easier to identify, Venndiagramtheir Heart or Head. For me, the easiest is the Heart. I know what I believe, what is important to me, and what drives me to do the work I do.

The activity was culminated by the mixture of the both (Heart and Head) to create Hustle, our purpose. Being able to identify the work that moves you, matched with your unique gifts, makes for a much clearer path towards a career that makes a difference, not only for you, but for your community.

Since part of making this process more useful is reflection and actually taking steps towards achieving your goals, I figured I would share my diagram. Since the hardest part for me is the Head, it gave me time to think about things I am good at and figure out how to put them to use. It allowed me to identify areas that I consider my forte and things I have the ability to teach other people about. I feel we all need to do this more often. We are constantly learning and developing, so there will always be new skills and talents to add to the list. Not coincidentally, the things I am good at are directly aligned with my values and passions; volunteer management, outreach, organizational development, teaching, etc.

Even after you discover your passion, you are no closer to finding an impact career if you do not take action. This TED Talk by Larry Smith, an Economics professor in Canada, puts very bluntly why you are going to fail to have a great, or even good career. He gives a few reasons as to why that is, but it all boils down to being too narrow-minded in searching for your passion, and simply making the decision not to do it. Work on Purpose’s Head + Heart = Hustle venn-diagram activity is a great way to search for those passions with a broader view to be sure you are not just narrowing down to one thing you are passionate about. You must look for alternatives to really find what fits you best.

Now for the kicker, not doing it. You may go through all the motions, but, as Smith says,  “You make excuses about why you are not going to look for your passion”, and that is what causes you  to fail, the never-ending list of excuses. Most likely you are afraid you are going to fail. Find your passion, learn from failure, and give yourself the opportunity to have a career that impacts you, the world, and lets you live out your passions.

“Passion is the thing that helps you create the highest expression of your talent.” – Larry Smith

Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

In my effort to learn something new every day, I started watching a TED Talk each day while I ate breakfast. I stumbled upon a talk by Ernesto Sirolli.  It was perfect timing because a few months later, I created two new courses at the University of Florida revolving around community engagement, leadership and social change. Since this talk really resonated with me, I use it in class when we start talking about effective social change, and my students love it just as much as I do.

His story, while being very entertaining, is a great example of how people’s intentions might be in the right place, but to effectively serve the community, it is important to understand THEIR needs. Sirolli touches on the naivety of the countries around the world thinking they can “fix” whatever problem they assume African countries have. They felt so proud of all the work they were about to accomplish and for being there to “save the Africans”, that they could not see why their projects were failing. He goes on to discuss the importance of conversation and tapping into the peoples own entrepreneurial spirit to make real change. The advice and examples at hand are valuable to any entrepreneur, but also to anyone hoping to make a difference in the world. Everything they touched, he said, they killed, and it was all because they did not ask, they told. I guarantee that this is something nonprofits and social entrepreneurs experience every day.

“No one in the world can succeed alone. The same goes for social change.” – Ernest Sirolli

Another great example that I like to reference is Aaron Ausland’s, Staying for Tea. I have my students read this article specifically because the personal story and examples he uses helps them grasp the concept much better. Ausland has years of experience in global development and from his own stories and those he has worked with, he recognized that he too may have been approaching community-service volunteer work ineffectively. In sitting and talking with community members he says, “My title and position were being eroded; I was becoming real to them. At the same time, my simplistic stereotypes of them were melting away;  they were becoming real to me.”. This is key in connecting how the service work you may do, and learning from the community will be what ultimately steers you towards making any effective change.

Ausland references an experience a friend of his had while in Central America regarding youth groups throwing money and American footballs out bus windows to children passing by. The pastor did not see how this could possibly be a bad thing, they were sharing their blessing with others, it was well intentioned. The experience he shares is one similar to mine in Guatemala. I was riding a bus to go for a hike up a volcano near where I was staying, and as we pulled up to the stop little children surrounded the van. Tourists were throwing money and snacks out the window. I remember seeing Cheetos fly out and kids trying to catch them. This was a perfect example of how tourists, volunteers, etc. can without knowing, dehumanize people. There was no conversation, no attempt to treat them as an equal, just food/candy being thrown at them, as if they were animals being given a treat. This happens too often regardless of the intent of the individual.

Listen. Engage. and Stay Humble.