This article was written and published by Faith Driven Entrepreneur.
“My company exists to change the world.”
As an entrepreneur, you probably resonate with this statement – at least to some degree. You might even feel pressure from culture or your peers to place social change at the front and center of your business strategy. After all, ESGs are becoming more popular in the investment space, and “purpose-first” is a trendy term that’s slipped into many corporate “about” sections.
How is your business going beyond profit and advancing social good?
The role of business is clearly changing, but this might not be so surprising to Faith Driven Entrepreneurs. For centuries, Christ-following leaders have realized that business can be used to love others. Commerce is an avenue to reveal God’s love and truth.
In this article, we’re going to explore:
what it means to create a culture of philanthropy through business;
we’re going to look at philanthropy in its original context, as the love of humanity. As CEOs and entrepreneurs, we can use our God-given creativity to discover new ways of supporting those around us;
we’re going to break out of the old idea that philanthropy is only the activity of rich men in board rooms. Instead, we’re going to hear from some of the world’s most creative business owners who have paired their unique business talents with a desire to help others.
May you read this article and develop a contagious excitement to think beyond self-serving profit margins and embrace a culture of philanthropy.
What is a Culture of Philanthropy?
Business and philanthropy don’t always see eye-to-eye. Many people make them separate (even competing) line-items in the ledger. Business and philanthropy have competing goals. Business maximizes potential value while philanthropy redistributes resources to provide for those who can’t provide for themselves. But under further examination, we can see that both descriptions are caricatures. Both business and philanthropy can create powerful synergies.
As an entrepreneur, you know that business isn’t the blind pursuit of profit. Each one of us is created in the image of God, which means we yearn for creativity, relationships, justice, and love.
Philanthropy and profit aren’t contradictory, either. At Faith Driven Entrepreneur, we believe that entrepreneurs are unique stewards of God’s gifts. We see the role of money as a tool. God is the owner, and any finances under our control are tools for his ultimate purpose. This results in intentionality and radical generosity. Philanthropy that doesn’t use its resources wisely is waste. As it turns out, businesses are excellent vehicles for creating sustainable community transformations.
In a business context, a culture of philanthropy uses corporate resources to meet the full range of human needs in the marketplace.
The essence of a successful business is to meet unmet needs in the marketplace. Both scripture and psychology tell us that human needs go far beyond our bank accounts. Therefore, entrepreneurs are well-equipped to meet human needs through their businesses.
To achieve a culture of philanthropy in your business, you’ll likely need to embrace these three values:
Generosity. God has blessed us with talents and resources. As stewards, we can pass on these blessings to others.
Creativity. Old conceptions of philanthropy can be counterproductive. It’s up to entrepreneurs to come up with new ways of loving others in sustainable ways.
Partnership. The lone wolf entrepreneur rarely succeeds. The same is true for business as it is for philanthropy. Not only do we need to partner with people with resources, but we also need to partner with those we seek to help.
Four Examples of Cultures of Philanthropy in Business
A culture of philanthropy can take many different forms. There’s no one way to love others since each entrepreneur has been given different talents and gifts. If you’re wondering how to develop a culture of philanthropy at your organization, take a look at these examples.
Use Profits to Fund a Foundation
This is perhaps the most common way entrepreneurs can create a culture of philanthropy. They can take the profits made through business and use them to support a foundation or non-profit. Of course, entrepreneurs might even use their business expertise to contribute to the board of directors or executive guidance.
David Weekly, owner of David Weekly Homes, has launched a charitable Foundation to impact the world through both Christ-centered and secular organizations. He’s given to Hope International, which lends money in order to sustainably fund part of their operations. He also supports Christian Camping by helping Christian Camps with capital-intensive investments. Once these camps are able to build new cabins and dining halls, they’re able to host enough kids and families to break even. As we can see, David is able to support foundations with a uniquely entrepreneurial approach.
Offer Life Changing Products or Services
How many other people are able to relieve pain and suffering by creating a new product to meet those needs? Entrepreneurs have an incredible opportunity to love others through their products and services.
Entrepreneurship meets philanthropy when the business adjust prices in order to increase access. There are many examples of companies that sacrifice some profit margin in order to advance a greater mission.
Jonas Paul Eyewear creates stylish eyewear for children. Founder, Ben Harrison, needed a pair of glasses for his son with a rear eye condition. He wasn’t able to find the style of eyewear he liked, so he started his own company. Driven by this personal story, Jonas Paul Eyewear now donates a percentage of each sale to CBM International.
Juntos Finanzas is a tech company that creates digital finance tools for cash-based households. While Ketie Nienow, founder, could have created tools for the ultra-wealthy (and made more money in the process), she decided to create a culture of philanthropy by focusing on an underserved market. Now, the company’s educational banking tools help people from all backgrounds make sound financial decisions.
Empower a Community
Businesses, especially local businesses, can create cultures of philanthropy by building up specific communities. Some businesses choose to do this by hiring overlooked populations. Other businesses tap into latent community talents and might hire local artisans to produce items. Finally, other businesses might empower a community by providing education and resources for self-sustaining enterprises.
Faith Driven Entrepreneur was able to feature Dayspring in one of its video stories. The founder of Dayspring says their mission is to “bear witness to God’s redeeming of the workplace, marketplace, and community as a tech company.” A few years ago, they relocated to Bayview, California, far away from the trendy startup zones of San Francisco and LA. In this location, they’ve supported numerous grass roots efforts, leveraging their business consulting expertise, to serve their neighbors.
Create Good Work
Don’t buy into the idea that philanthropy can only happen on the other side of the world. In fact, philanthropy doesn’t even have to leave the walls of your company. Creating good work and treating employees well can be one of the greatest ways to love others.
Good work creates a sense of meaning. Good salaries and benefits, coupled with a strong corporate mission, can extend a sense of stewardship to every single employee under your care. By creating an excellent company culture, you’re inadvertently creating a culture of philanthropy as employees are able to return to their families and neighborhoods with joy and generosity.
Want to learn how to create good work? Watch this clip by Andy Crouch.
Tips on Creating a Culture of Philanthropy
Now that we’ve looked at a few examples of companies that have created cultures of philanthropy, it’s time to consider practical steps. As a leader, what are some tips for making sure this culture of philanthropy gets off the ground?
Establish Your Company’s Identity
Paul Michalski, creator of a law firm focused on integrity, reminds us that Matthew 6:24 tells us that a person can have only one primary identity (and an organization can have only one ultimate priority). While setting a company’s identity begins with a clear mission statement, it becomes alive in day-to-day conversations and meetings. You can’t expect to achieve a culture of philanthropy if employees must increase profit margins or else lose their jobs.
Lead By Example
Any culture requires its leaders to embody said culture. So, you may want to communicate that your money is where your mouth is. Don’t flaunt your gifts like the Pharisees, but try to take the first step when you can. Go visit the communities you claim to serve. Tell the personal story of why you founded the company. When donations cut into company profits, make sure to take a cut from your own salary before asking employees to bear the costs of your philanthropy.
Go Beyond Finances. Foster Talents
It’s no secret that corporate culture, especially in America, idolizes money. It equates a person’s value with their bank account, but this is wholly incompatible with God’s vision of humanity. Each of us has been given personal talents that we can use to serve in God’s kingdom.
As you seek to create a culture of philanthropy, think of ways you can use people’s talents. Too many philanthropists think that if they throw enough money at a problem, they can overcome any obstacle. But as we’ve seen, people need more than money. They need love, meaning, and community, too.
Embrace an Abundance Mindset
It’s hard to be generous if we believe in a zero-sum, dog-eat-dog world. Unfortunately many businesses are run from that perspective. But faith driven entrepreneurs believe in an abundant God who bestows good gifts upon his children.
An abundance mentality allows us to be open handed as we look to share investors and deal flow. Further, while many that subscribe to an economy of scarcity might believe that the addition of a bottom line to financial return will come at the expense of the other, we believe that great financial returns are possible not at the expense of Biblical values, but because of them.
In order to create a culture of philanthropy at your company, instill an abundance mindset throughout the organization.
Love Others Through Agency and Respect
Philanthropy rarely works on a one way street. The givers cannot hold all the decision-making power. Wealthy donors who have no knowledge of a situation cannot expect to make lasting change by basing decisions off flawed assumptions.
One of the best ways we can love others is to invite them into their own solutions. It seems obvious when you say it out loud, but many philanthropists have done more harm than good by “helping” in the wrong ways. Instead, let’s have open and honest conversations with others and find out how we might truly serve through education, resources, and equipping.
What about Tithing?
Tithing should be a central component of the faith driven entrepreneur’s life. In scripture, we see God asking his people to give 10% of their income back to the temple and priests. This could include grains, livestock, or other possessions.
But while tithing is important, it shouldn’t be conflated with a culture of philanthropy. Tithing is often considered a personal attitude and gesture toward God. In some contexts, tithing refers to the money we give to our local church. A philanthropic culture, on the other hand, involves a community. Our generosity shouldn’t begin and end with us. Instead, we should think about how we can collaborate with our boards, employees, and customers to advance philanthropic missions.
Avoid Common Pitfalls When it Comes to a Culture of Philanthropy
Loving others is difficult. So often, entrepreneurs can be blinded by greed, worry, and ego. We must be careful not to let our focus slip, and the best way to stay vigilant is to pay attention to common pitfalls. After speaking with dozens of entrepreneurs who have tried to create cultures of philanthropy, here are some situations to avoid.
Ego Disguised as Philanthropy
Entrepreneurs have large egos. We want to prove ourselves to the world and our competitive natures can sometimes get out of hand. As we see in the gospels, this ego can spill into philanthropy as well. We want to give large monetary gifts to show everyone how great we are, how successful we’ve become. But these actions aren’t done out of love. Instead, they’re done out of ego.
We’ve created a Bible Reading Plan on the Entrepreneur Ego. If you struggle with pride, we invite you to take a look.
Some might say that a business with a philanthropic bent is idealistic. To survive in this world, you need to make compromises and focus on the bottom line. Often, this perspective is rooted in disillusionment.
Peter Greer, author of The Gift of Disillusionment, defines disillusionment well: “The moment of disillusionment is when our expectations and reality collide, expectations of what it was going to be like, of the success that we were going to have, and reality that this is far more complicated, far more difficult than we initially thought.”
It takes great faith to continue forward through disillusionment. But we see this modeled so many times in the Bible. Joseph was unjustly thrown in prison. Jeremiah watched the invasion of his homeland. David cried out in the Psalms. Many great people have had to grapple with expectations versus reality. So, just because things are difficult, don’t give up on creating a culture of philanthropy.
Unintentionally Destructive Philanthropy
Loving others well often means providing others with agency and respect. It means checking in and asking whether the help being provided is showing results. We see destructive philanthropy occur when Americans ship leftover clothing items to African countries. Some clothing CEOs might think they’re helping meet a need by shipping tons of clothes overseas (or they simply want a cheap way to dispose of excess inventory). But this system not only moves wasteful excess from point A to point B, it also guts the local clothing industry and puts people out of potentially meaningful employment.
Money is a tool. Money is not evil. While Jesus condemned the love of money, he did not point his finger at wealthy individuals simply because they had money. If you have been blessed with some wealth, use it responsibly. If you have a business, don’t run it into the ground out of some unhealthy belief that self destruction leads to holiness. You don’t have to gut a thriving enterprise in order to donate to your local dog pound. This might be an exaggerated example, but we see this happen in the nonprofit world too often. Idealistic individuals start a foundation only to run out of money or lose all their top talent because they won’t make the necessary business decisions required to sustain their philanthropy.