Tips for business leaders on making the most of their charity

When business leaders choose to give back to their communities, everyone benefits.

“We’re all citizens of the community,” says Kenneth B. Liffman, Chairman of the Board of McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman Co., L.P.A. “When we give our time, it should be to make the community a better place to live and work.”

Executives, however, need to be mindful of how they apply their philanthropic efforts to avoid being ineffective, inauthentic or both.

Smart Business spoke with Liffman about philanthropic leadership, offering tips on giving to charity while supporting employees who do the same.

How should organizational leaders choose where they devote their philanthropic time or giving?
The choice needs to be personal and driven by a little fire in your gut, because the more that you do, the more the organization will ask for as they try to get the most out of your involvement.

Pick an organization with a mission that has impacted you, your family or the lives of people in your business. For example, if someone in your family has been afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, support organizations looking for a cure or that help those in the community who are coping with it.

Leaders should also find ways to use their company to boost employees’ charitable efforts. Make a list at the start of each year of organizations employees support, or the broader causes they are passionate about, such as hunger relief or literacy, and find ways to apply the institutional muscle of the business to these causes.

What are some factors organizational leaders should consider before committing their time to a cause?
Time is the conundrum. Even though you may love an organization and its cause, unless its leadership can use your time wisely, you may not be able to meaningfully participate. Address this upfront. Let the nonprofit know you’re strapped for time and create a plan that makes the most of what you’re able to offer.

Some charities do a good job of presenting commitment options — ways you can apply your time. For example, you might be most effective on a specific committee, as the lead on a special project or heading fundraising efforts.

Ultimately, you want to ensure your time and talents are being put to effective use. Be honest with yourself about the time you can give to a cause. Consider taking part in events that allow you to do two things at once. For instance, walk-runs are increasingly popular because they can be done while spending time with family.

And rather than attend a board meeting in person, phone in.

Business leaders shouldn’t be timid in this aspect. Your time is important. The business you lead provides the means to give back to the community, so you can’t ignore it. If you’re dealing with an organization that is unable to put your time to the best use, consider going elsewhere.

How should an organization that’s inclined to be philanthropic support those in the organization who want to volunteer or donate to charity?
It’s encouraging if a company gives its employees the latitude to attend to their philanthropic commitments as part of the workday. That communicates that philanthropy is central to the company’s values.

Companies should always look favorably on the contributions of its staff. For example, if one of your employees is a board member of a charity, find ways to help their cause — buy a table at a dinner event the charity puts on, or simply match at a certain percentage of whatever they choose to give.

Those leaders who are so inclined, and if the company is in a position that it can, should consider forming a foundation in the company’s name. Through it, you can support the charitable donations of your employees.

Whatever the method, the goal is to help build a better community, not make yourself or your company look good to others. Pick a cause that makes you feel good and enhances your life, something you’re passionate about, and be the example for your friends, family and employees. Show them that you believe in something and you’re willing to be selfless to help those in need.

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