The power of giving

The act of giving is now expected of most businesses, explains John Sikkema, and you won’t just be helping people in need – your staff will feel great about it too

The power of giving

Business Strategy


Philantrophy was once considered a noble endeavour for the rich, but the social market has shifted. The new generation is expecting businesses and corporations to be socially responsible and engaged. Donating money is not enough – the expectations of businesses are now higher due to globalisation and access to social media platforms.
There are now an increasing number of new enterprises with a sole purpose to make a difference in the world, and to do that in a profitable way, rather than purely exist for profit share.
Businesses such as Who Gives A Crap, which sells toilet paper to fund developing world sewerage problems, is one example. They stepped into the consumer goods industry to gain market share from the corporate giants, with the goal of syphoning funds into the NFP sector, while increasing the profile of the cause.
Thankyou Water has shown that by combining entrepreneurial flair with a noble cause and an existing product, you can persuade consumers and suppliers to switch from traditional brands. Its profits are being used to provide clean water in developing countries and fund other allied philanthropic and charitable causes, while traditional brands are solely focused on maximising shareholder investment returns.
Often people place philanthropic activity in the to-do-later basket. They put it off until they have more money or time, or until they are retired. What opportunities are passing them by? Melinda Gates’ mother persuaded Bill and Melinda to be philanthropic 20 years earlier, saying, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Imagine if they had not listened to her.
A life of significance
As a success-driven business builder, I had a personal experience that shifted my focus. I realised I was focused on monetary success, and this was no longer satisfying. This, as outlined in my book Enriched: Re-defining Wealth, caused me to have a huge paradigm shift. I wanted to build a life of significance – one focused on others, not myself. I took this on as both a personal and corporate challenge. How could my company become actively engaged with philanthropic opportunities?
While in Phuket for our company’s conference, our team was transported daily between the hotel and the conference venue. We saw great poverty, an extreme contrast to the luxury of our five-star resort. I was unsettled and felt a deep conviction that we should be giving back to the community.
As the CEO, I shared my thoughts and our team came up with the idea of building an orphanage in Thailand, to be run by a local NGO. In the space of an hour after launching our plan, we raised the funds to build the orphanage from our franchisees and staff. I was surprised by the significant acts of generosity that came from several of the most hardheaded business people in our organisation.
Over a decade later, whenever we meet, their leading question is: “How’s the orphanage going?” Rather than how we grew a small business in Tasmania into a very successful Australia-wide firm.
If you embrace the practical power of giving, the personal and corporate rewards will astound you. It will take the culture of your company to a level well beyond where boardroom planning or HR programs teaching theoretical corporate values can take you. Here are reasons why giving will take your company to another level:
  • Corporately unifies employees
  • Creates a culture of collaboration among the staff
  • Creates a corporate and individual purpose in staff beyond themselves
  • Broadens people’s horizons and experiences creating excellent opportunities for personal growth
  • Gives employees a conversation starter in varied social settings, which increases their connection with people around them
  • Exposure to the difficulties that developing countries face creates a sense of gratitude and realisation of the power people have to change the world
  • Engaging with philanthropic activities will give a business a leading edge among its competitors to become an employer of choice.
I see personal transformation as the most powerful catalyst to becoming a genuine, giving and generous person, which ultimately will flow into the DNA of the organisations that you lead.
Unfortunately, in our western culture we have given away our personal responsibility to help those in need and expect the government to use our taxes to take on that responsibility. This means many people miss out – the task is simply too big!
Thankfully the tide is turning and wealthy individuals such as the Warren Buffetts and Bill Gates are setting a great example. Andrew Forrest is leading the way in Australia. These business owners are pledging to give away 90% of their wealth to needy causes around the world prior to dying. There is now a healthy global movement where other wealthy individuals have been challenged to do likewise. This is cascading down to everyday small businesses and people.
It begins with the heart of a leader to embrace the concept that to whom much is given much is expected. A good place to start is by following these three principles:
Three principles for giving
1 Align your philanthropic activity to your Life Purpose or Life
Mission Statement
What are you passionate about? What needs do you see around you, locally or globally, that get you angry, which others are not tackling sufficiently? What organisations exist that do good that you could help make better?
Virtually every business has a business plan but, sadly, I have found very few business owners or key leaders have a clear personal plan for their life. By establishing your Life Purpose, it then becomes clearer which opportunities to pursue.
2 You will need to lead
Once you have a compelling vision in the philanthropic space others will follow, but initially you may get some opposition. Maybe you are the only person in your sphere of influence that is committed to making a positive impact in the world. Clarity, communication and passion for your cause are needed.
3 Be prepared for change
The bigger the philanthropic project or cause you embrace, potentially the bigger the changes you will need to make. Risk taking, uncertainty and adventure are all key things to embrace as you seek a life that is fulfilling and meaningful.
As children we’re often encouraged to dream about how we can make the world a better place. It’s now time as adults to use our time, skills, personal and corporate resources, and a child-like attitude of sharing, to make a difference in the world. Why not start today?
John Sikkema is a philanthropist, thought leader and entrepreneur. He is executive chairman of Halftime Australia, inspiring leaders to live their life purpose now.

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