Middle Market CEOs typically consider giving to a charity or starting some sort of philanthropic initiative. But resources are finite and the needs are endless. What to do? The best answer is to give in a way that benefits all stakeholders: owners/family members, employees, the community, and investors. But how do you charitably give to benefit such a disparate group? Mr. David Zale, Chairman of the M.B. & Edna Zale Foundation, and a former employee of Zales Jewelers founded by his grandfather has some sound advice.
How To Focus Your Charitable Efforts
Have a Worthy Purpose
The Zale Foundation’s purpose is to honor the philanthropic initiatives of the jewelry chain’s founders, M.B. and Edna Zale. Sometimes that means saying “no” to worthy causes. That’s never easy, but, if you know your purpose, you let that be your guide. Zale says, “We decided to always be true to our original mission in order to honor my grandparents.”
Don’t Ignore the Benefits
Most Middle Market companies start philanthropic initiatives from an urge to give back. Zale agrees: “Most companies do it at an altruistic level. If you have the opportunity to contribute at a greater level, this is the most efficient way.” However, there are real-world benefits as well. It would be foolish to ignore the tax benefits, for instance. A lot of companies are also looking into “contextual” philanthropy, which means using your company’s core competencies to support a cause that, in turn, benefits your company. One example is tech companies that support Science, Technology, Education, and Math (STEM) initiatives. These endeavors support the community’s educational goals, and that in turn, produces workers with skills the company needs.
Beware the “Comfortable Couch” Syndrome
Zale says that one big obstacle is stagnation – you get too big, too bored, and too distracted after too long. There can be legitimate reasons for changing focus, but that’s different from a gradual drift occurring because nobody is paying attention. When his family encountered that dilemma, he led them through a strategic review. Zale comments, “We wanted to again take ownership of our Foundation, and preserve the legacy of my grandparents by being responsible for our assets, as well as for the allocation of our grants.”
Giving to a charity or starting a philanthropic foundation is a big decision. It’s important to choose causes your business and your family is passionate about so you can keep focused when you get distracted. Does your family business have a charitable or philanthropic strategy?
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