The issue of life purpose is one that we are all faced with early in our lives, some of us as early as in their childhood. At some point we all make, whether consciously or not, a decision as to what we want to dedicate our lives to. For some that purpose is raising a family, for others it is building a career or even building a company.
But how about life meaning? How many of us find meaning in what we do day in and day out? My guess is not many. We seem to dive into life, often with ambition and determination, to achieve status, material things or some sort of lifestyle we’ve always dreamed of. And we are so focused on getting to the finish line, in other words getting all those things we so desperately desire, that we never even think of what the meaning of life, and our own life in particular is.
Yet the need for life meaning is a basic human need we cannot escape. Oftentimes, mid-life crisis is a result of the urge to find that meaning. It is also the case sometimes that once we achieve all we craved for we find ourselves depressed at the discovery that it doesn’t bring us satisfaction as we see no real meaning in it.
To be honest, I understand that. At some point, regardless of how much we’ve achieved in our professional lives, we all start to think about our death bed and worrying if we’ve done enough. It is one of the reasons why I’ve dedicated my own life to helping people bring meaning into their lives through incorporating philanthropy. That way their daily activity, which is also their living, becomes meaningful as they impact and change other people’s lives through the work they do.
And I think the idea of your death bed and how you want to feel about your life at this point is a good one to consider when you make the decision as to how much you want to give for others. To what extent do you want to impact other people’s lives?
Here are the options or levels of impact you could go for in the pursuit of meaning:
A lot of people wrongfully think that philanthropy is about donating money. Still many businesses think that by writing cheques to non-profits and charities they’ve done their part. Money is, without a doubt, needed so there’s nothing wrong with money donations. The only thing is that money doesn’t go a long way in solving the actual problems that create the need in the first place as money is never enough. More importantly, not many companies can afford to write those cheques regularly which diminishes the impact from the donations even more. Writing cheques is effective when it is regular but also when it is aligned with other actions to reinforce the value of it.
Non-Strategic Philanthropic Efforts
As a business consultant, I see that a growing number of companies are waking up to the fact that money on its own doesn’t do much. These organisations are taking philanthropy a step further as they donate money but also engage in other charitable activities. Among these are, for example, volunteering with non-profits, donating resources, organising charity events, spreading the mission of the charity etc. These are all great initiatives that are definitely worth more than writing a cheque but if they are aimed at different causes and support different charities, then their effectiveness is hardly huge. Especially if you are inconsistent in terms of the causes you support and your endeavours are irregular which makes the impact being made even smaller for all stakeholders involved.
Strategic Philanthropic Efforts
It is completely different if all of your company’s social efforts were aligned and aimed towards a single social mission. For example, if you were a pharmaceutical company and your social cause was to fight malaria in Africa, you would be much more effective if you not only donated money for research but also sent volunteers to educate people on how to better protect themselves, partnered with a charity to bring awareness, organised events to raise money for nets, etc. If you incorporated all those efforts strategically and you were consistent in your work, the impact you make in terms of just fighting malaria would be much larger compared to the impact you would make supporting 3 different causes with less effort and less money. The added benefit: if you pick a single social mission and make it yours so that people know that this is what you stand for, it adds to your brand and makes you stand out from the rest of the companies.
Integrated Corporate Philanthropy
If you want to really integrate meaning into your daily business activity, you could go even further by tying in your business objectives and business results with your social mission. It is one thing to organise and engage in different initiatives all in the support of a single social cause, but much more if through your daily operations you were working towards eradicating a social problem. How do you do that? Well, one way to incorporate philanthropy into the soul of your business is through the so called one-for-one philanthropic model. Service companies normally struggle with this concept as they are not manufacturers or retailers and they feel they have nothing to contribute with. If you happen to be one of those, don’t worry. The one-for-one model could work just as well for you. Say you were a college or a course centre and your social cause was education. What you could do is, for every ten students you enrol you could take on a student from a disadvantaged community for free. However, the one-for-one model is just an example, there are other ways to approach integrated strategic philanthropy that might work better for your business.
People generally define meaning as the impact they have on the world, in other words the difference their existence has made. This is why, we tend to turn to philanthropy when we reach the stage at which we need meaning. Integrating philanthropy into your business strategically is practically incorporating meaning into what you do on a daily basis. No matter how far you would like to go with your social effort, keep in mind that whatever you do, it is always better when your cause is somehow related to what you do as a business. The stronger the link, the more sense it makes to the general public and the more genuine your intentions seem which also benefits your business.
Hopefully one day, you will not only be able to say that you’ve built a successful business but also that your organisation has made a difference and you’ve left a mark in this world through it. In other words the would has become a better place by you being in it.
If you would like to incorporate social impact into your business model so that you not only grow your business but also impact other people’s lives please don’t hesitate to get in touch. As a corporate philanthropy consultant with many years of business coaching experience, I can help you integrate meaning and purpose into your business in a sustainable way. You can get in touch with me, Paul Davis, here.