Making Your Business a Cause


Ken Robertson

Whether a sole operator or a company, turning your business into a cause brings a purpose to work that goes beyond building a greater profitability, pleasing stakeholders or improving business net-worth. It transcends these (albeit critical) necessities creating an emotional ROI that can’t be experienced by any other means. And in business today, emotional ROI is more than just an abstract concept, it has become a means to procure better talent, sustain a competitive advantage and in many ways will end up building a better bottom-line in the long run.

But typically when we think of ‘cause,’ in business, we tend to think of a company giving to a charitable organization. This is the box that cause currently resides in. Although a wonderful box, companies that bring cause into every area of their business tend to leave their competitors scratching their heads saying “How are they growing so quickly, hiring the best players and being recognized by the entire industry.” The answer is surprisingly simple. These ‘cause driven’ companies see ‘cause’ as going beyond the norm in every area of their business processes and practices, and see people (not as a means to their end) but as an opportunity to serve in remarkable ways at every touch-point in and out of the business.

The following 5 points are indicators that an individual in business or company is moving to a cause leadership position.

The obvious is a giving play that starts by allocating a set percentage of business revenue or profits to organizations that align with its values. This immediately extends the reach of impact outside the normal channels of business and makes waking up and going to work a more rewarding and fulfilling proposition. Simply knowing the business is being used as a vehicle to change lives provides the entire company with an emotional ROI and cultural connection that brings inspiration across the enterprise.

If giving financially isn’t an option due to cash-flow or other circumstances, an individual or company can continue giving from a place of their services and or product inventory. For example, we are aware of a marketing firm who when they lost their biggest client and money was tight, they continued giving by branding cause-based organizations that were in need and made it known to their channels that they would be happy to consult pro-bono in branding and marketing. When the work load was too big to do for free, they coined the phrase ‘low-bono’ by charging a little to cover cost and kept things moving. They could provide services that would have cost hundreds of thousand of dollars at no fee while they were scrapping for cash. The ironic, not planned surprise was that they picked up several clients in the process through forming lasting relationships with others in the process of the work.

Another way to give, lean times or not, is to discover the giving passions of individuals in the company and create the opportunity for them to take paid time from work to serve in the area they desire. Doesn’t have to be extended time. A couple days a year or 1 half-day, once a quarter continues the flow of giving using human capital in the company, an often overlooked giving resource. The employee wins, the company wins and the cause being served wins.

Vendors are a critical component of a businesses success and rarely if ever are they seen as a cause. We think if we pay our bills on time, we are being exemplary. Taking care of vendors is one of those hidden opportunities to impact the lives of those who have tremendous capacity to impact ours.

Beyond external giving, companies would do well to innovate ways to turn its culture into a cause; meaning go beyond Employee 101 which includes standard benefits, raises, vacations and a Christmas party. Getting creative by showing recognition, facilitating community in the culture and providing small surprises every now and then are what categorize companies as extraordinary. It’s often the small things that add up to a big difference where the ROI manifests in a more intimate culture as well as improved employee performance and loyalty.

Integrating some or all of these cause components into your business practices or company is the beginning of bringing more enrichment to work and more value to life. The world has always been and will always be in a place of diverse need. Fulfilling that need is no longer just a heart decision, it’s a smart decision.

 

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Ken Robertson oversees a team responsible for all acquisition, disposition, and asset management activities for his region on behalf of KBS REIT, pension fund and sovereign wealth fund clients. His portfolio consists of 32 assets containing 12M SF.