By Chris Wendel
Many of the business lessons we learn come from the voices of our mentors. I catch myself sometimes uttering sage words of advice that came from my father including the phrase “You have to do well before you can do good.”
With that engrained in my mind over the years, I have been a firm believer in making a company financially strong before giving much back in charitable or socially conscience contributions. As cut and dried as that seems, I’ve seen plenty of exceptions lately that have altered my point of view.
So as a business owner, when is the right time and the right way to give back? The most effective company programs for community involvement have some element of employee initiative. It can be something simple like employees coaching their kids’ teams and evolve into the company sponsoring the kids’ team, and beyond.
If you or your company’s employees have a local charitable group or cause that they care for, then the business can show an effort (monetarily or otherwise) in that direction. There are plenty of local examples of imaginative alliances made between business and non-profit groups. Grand Traverse Pies donate a portion of pie sales to breast cancer research, area businesses decorate trees for the annual Festival of Trees, Traverse City State Bank sponsors a 4-H kid’s steer in the Northwestern Michigan Fair.
The idea is to donate, endorse and be directly involved with a charity at the same time. It’s not just saying that your company gave money to a charity or social cause; it’s having a true company and employee stake that demontrates true dedication to that charity.
One local company founded their company in the premise of being socially responsible before all else. Higher Grounds Trading Company built its company with the idea of selling fair trade coffee from villages in Central and South America, and Africa. Owners Chris and Jody Treter wove the mission of social good into their original company business plan and have stuck to it ever since.