5 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Enhance Local Communities

This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.com

Your entrepreneurial venture can’t be successful in a vacuum. Whether you are a web-based company without local ties, a small business rooted in one neighborhood or a real estate company in the thick of many regions, you can take the lead on contributing to local communities in a number of ways.

Doing so will increase your visibility among potential customers and will also promote social good to enhance the community you are involved in. Investing some of your time and resources into improving the local quality of life can have a ripple effect and be a valuable part of your business mission as your company evolves.

Here are some of the most impactful ways to stay engaged with the local community and enhance the community as a whole.

1. Sponsor non-profit organizations in the community.

Whether you are affiliated with a non-profit organization through your own personal efforts as an entrepreneur, or are simply looking for new ways to give back, consider sponsoring a worthy organization as a company. You could join events, like Startups Give Back, to connect with businesses that need your company’s help.

Many local organizations are looking for company sponsors to cover the costs of major events and some administrative expenses. They will do their part to promote your generosity through their marketing efforts, which can help you get more visibility in the community. You can also promote the organization in your own marketing collateral as a major sponsor.

2. Incorporate volunteering in the company mission.

Make a passion for social good part of your company’s mission so you and your employees can give back to the community together. Whether you are organizing food drives, volunteering at a soup kitchen or building houses, volunteering can create a sense of kinship and also serve as a team-building activity.

Consider organizing group volunteer sessions with your employees and encouraging team members to share their volunteer contributions with the rest of the staff. Encouraging a spirit of volunteerism and giving back within your mission statement – and through ways you operate as a company — can be beneficial to both team members and the community at large.

3. Design a business model that gives back.

If you are in retail or any other type of product sales business, consider donating a portion of the profits of each sale automatically.

If you are in the service business, you could design a business model that gives a portion of the proceeds to a charity or other non-profit organization. The goal is to automate the donation to a non-profit so that all customers and clients are aware that a portion of their purchase ends up with a good cause.

If your business can organically incorporate community enhancement into its ethos, that’s even better. The real estate industry is a natural candidate for such efforts, as developers have hands-on experience with neighborhood development projects and can take input from community representatives.

As your business gains momentum, you should consider branching out to more than one charitable organization or community project to serve as a philanthropist. As writer Annie Pilon explains in this article, “When you give to your community, the community tends to give back to you.”

4. Contribute to the local economy.

Make a commitment to buy supplies and raw materials from local vendors and partner with local businesses for any services and other business-related purchases.

Your purchases and investments will contribute to the local economy and may prompt business owners you work with to recommend you to other contacts or customers. Establish strong relationships with these vendors and partners as you develop and build your company to develop a solid reputation.

Opening new businesses or building new properties or even green spaces, like parks, can enhance a community by drawing in foot traffic and tourism. New visitors will patronize local businesses, stimulating the economy.

5. Promote local businesses.

In addition to being an active participant of the local economy’s ecosystem, you can take the lead on promoting other local businesses through co-marketing efforts or simply through referrals.

Encourage your customers to patronize local businesses that complement your’s, and they may even do the same in kind. The goal is to create a sense of community and camaraderie among other business owners since you are all invested in selling and marketing to the same customers.

Whether you work in technology, real estate or food service, there are various ways you can connect with the local community through your entrepreneurial venture. Showing your support for non-profits and community organizations can help you build value, both within the organization as you encourage a spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy, and with your customers as you show you are invested in your local community’s quality of life and future.

By |2018-10-31T18:00:26+00:00February 3rd, 2017|Philanthropy|

Why You Should Volunteer Before Launching Your Career

Volunteering can prepare young people for the world, both career-wise and on a personal level.

This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.com

With the weight of the world’s future resting on modern students, young people are bombarded with advice from the get-go on college majors, internships, salaries and beyond. On some level, it’s understandable: this world is a competitive one and we all want success for ourselves, our families, our economy. But what if instead of entering the workforce with money and power as the only goal posts, our careers were informed by developing our more selfless interests, too?

For me, volunteering was not so much a choice I made than it was something I felt compelled to do, partly due to my Jewish heritage and partly due to my urge to make a difference. After joining Dartmouth College Hillel’s Project Preservation, I led two separate trips to Eastern Europe — Belarus and the Ukraine, respectively — where my classmates and I worked to rebuild Jewish cemeteries destroyed under Nazi occupation.

These trips were incredibly formative for me, perhaps more so than any classes I took during my college career. By the time I graduated and moved to New York to start my career in real estate, I better understood my abilities and instincts not only as a businessman but as a human.

Some people are so eager to get out there and start working their way up the corporate ladder that they forget to develop their sense of self. I think volunteering is one way to prepare young people for the world to come, both career-wise and on personal level. Here’s why:

Volunteering gives you a sense of perspective.

It’s easy to have an inflated sense of self-worth as a young person; some may even say it’s natural. But the last thing you want entering the workforce is to preserve this state of invincibility — you are not and never will be invincible. On a similar note, your problems are not the only ones that matter; the world can be your oyster if you want it to be, but it isn’t yours alone.

Volunteering knocked me down a couple of pegs. Knowing — and witnessing, via the destruction of their cemeteries — how the Jewish people suffered under Nazi occupation, my perspective on life was altered. It didn’t matter as much if a teacher, friend, or colleague didn’t like me. I could handle my personal and professional issues with a level head.

Most forms of volunteering involve providing aid to those in need. When you have the privilege to be on the helping side and not the needy side, you realize how blessed you are. This attitude goes a long way when you start your career without a chip on your shoulder.

It helps with time management.

Juggling volunteering with academics, family, and a social life was not an easy feat for me; nor I imagine would it be for anyone. One major reason people don’t volunteer is because they think they don’t have the time.

You could really make this excuse for anything: “I don’t have time to go to the gym,” some say, or “I don’t have time to cook.” True, some people may not have the time for volunteering, let alone other activities, but the truth is most of us can make time if we want to. This takes time management, and a lot of it.

Being able to juggle school with volunteering and an active personal life is good preparation for the workforce. Young professionals often get a grunt of the workload and are expected to handle it if they want to advance. Volunteering teaches you to manage your time in an organized way so that you can balance your priorities and still squeeze in the occasional happy hour.

You develop new skills and passions.

Few people choose organizations to volunteer for arbitrarily. Finding a philanthropy that fits your personality and values can be just as important as finding a career that does and I would make the case that finding the former first helps with the latter.

Through volunteering, I learned how to be a leader; I learned to value teamwork and collaboration. Looking back, I can also see the parallels between my volunteer work and the career I’ve built since then. In Eastern Europe I restored and rebuilt cemeteries to preserve their histories; today, I oversee real estate development and restorations in historic NYC neighborhoods. It’s not the same, but there are overlapping themes about preserving history and community I’d be foolish to deny.

People who volunteer with animals from a young age may find that they want to go into veterinary sciences, or they may simply develop a strong compassion for underdogs. People who help the homeless may pursue careers in government, or they may learn not to judge colleagues by their appearance or income level. Whether a big or small, the impact on your career is almost certain to be positive.

It looks great on a resume.

There’s no denying that for all of volunteering’s personal benefits, it’s also something that can boost your resume by adding experience and depth. Philanthropy helps candidates stand out to employers in a positive way, especially if the company is a socially-minded one looking for a cultural fit.

For me, volunteering was key to defining my professional and personal identity, a link without which the whole of my persona would not stay strong. Whether I knew it or not at the time, my experience became a critical foundation for my success today, defining both who I am and who I want to be.

By |2020-05-07T19:25:41+00:00January 26th, 2017|Philanthropy|

How Big Data Can Make Philanthropy More Effective

Corporations across America are already tapping into big data to analyze customer behavior, conduct market research at a whole new level, and seek out new revenue opportunities. There is no reason why philanthropic organizations — and donors — can’t do the same.

From reviewing an organization’s performance to determining where fundraising dollars are coming from, big data-based strategies could be a powerful addition to the nonprofit sector in upcoming years. With a wealth of data readily available in the digital space and the ease in which more can be collected from supporters, sponsors and other contacts in their network, many can formulate plans and initiatives that are largely data-driven.

Here are some insights about how big data can make philanthropy more effective:

Tracking Fund Allocation

Many philanthropic organizations and charities publish annual reports about their usage of funds and other financial information. While these financial reports are valuable to stakeholders and donors, it’s not always easy for the average donor to find this data when deciding which charity to donate to or when comparing worthy organizations.

With big data, we would be able to access a smartphone app or online dashboard to review this information in real-time. Imagine how much easier it would be to compare performance and review activities of a certain organization so that you could verify how funds are being allocated.

Marketing Planned Giving Programs

Attracting donors interested in planning giving initiatives can be easier and streamlined with big data. Organizations able to tap into market segments in a position to join a planned giving program  — based on certain conditions or factors, such as age, occupation, retirement status, donation history, or similar — would have more information at their disposal for their marketing database.

Such organizations could coordinate more targeted marketing efforts to appeal to these potential donors, reaching out at just the right time and creating campaigns that resonate with their audience. This way donors would receive more valuable and impactful marketing materials from philanthropic organizations.

Identifying Supportive Markets

No matter what the organization’s cause, recruiting supporters is critical to success. Marketing teams may be able to identify the most responsive or supportive markets using big data analysis. For example, an organization could track the total number of dollars donated to the organization from every single state to see if there are any noticeable trends or patterns. Analyzing what may be causing these disparities can help the organization fine-tune their marketing and fundraising efforts so they are not wasting marketing dollars. This type of data analysis can also help unveil untapped markets or opportunities.

Increasing Reach via Digital Platforms

Another element of marketing that almost all nonprofits have already moved forward with is social media. While any organization can set up a Facebook Page or Twitter account to promote their cause and engage donors and related organizations, it takes some analytical muscle to dig through the data and determine what types of activities are most effective on social media, and who exactly the organization can reach through its efforts.

Whether they are coordinating online giving programs or simply making announcements about the latest activities, increasing reach to the ever-growing audience on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram, can be a valuable addition to an organization’s marketing efforts. Big data can tell us what this audience looks like, what their interests are and how likely they may be in a position to give. Nonprofits can explore a variety of social media marketing initiatives based on this data, making those advertisements and updates that much more impactful when connecting with potential supporters.

Maybe you’re a board member of your favorite charity or are thinking about joining forces with a philanthropic organization in some other capacity. No matter what your role may be, executing an effective fundraising strategy will be a high priority. In today’s data-driven world, there are numerous opportunities for fine-tuning fundraising strategy using big data. From accurately tracking fund usage in real-time to benefiting from planned giving programs, big data is opening new doors in the nonprofit sector — it will change things for good, both literally and figuratively.

By |2018-10-31T17:46:00+00:00August 15th, 2016|Philanthropy, Technology|

Have Smartphones Made Us More or Less Charitable?

In the minds of many, smartphones and narcissism go hand in hand, in pocket. From selfies to social media, mobile technology has become a digital extension of the physical self, or a means through which to carefully curate one’s personality and values. For some, this means mirror shots at the gym, brunch photographs, or vaguely political articles and memes. For others, it’s photos of missionary work, Kickstarter campaigns and philanthropy apps. Almost always, the aim is the same: to promote and enable an identity to be admired. Whether that identity is generous or conceited is up to the choices we make with the power of a million apps at our fingertips.

Where does charity fit into the smartphone experience, and does mobile technology actually encourage people to be more giving? It would be easy to assume that smartphones promote vanity above all else, an argument many have made while sneering at Snapchatting youngsters. Just consider the breadth of tools dedicated to selfies, the weight of likes and upvotes, and the shallow mentality of viral news trends.

At the same time, smartphones make donating easier than ever, to more causes than ever. This ability has been wildly impactful, if not only because the availability and simplicity of the tools that enable it.

The truth is complex — a little of this, a little of that, and a lot of speculation. It may just be that humans are both more charitable and more self-absorbed, and that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It may just be that the effects of smartphone ubiquity can steer us toward a greater good.

Cell phones and selfishness

We all can picture the stereotype of a grumpy teenager texting at the dinner table, oblivious to both conversation and food. This negative image isn’t completely without warrant: studies have shown that those that spent more time with smartphones were less socially minded. They are also less inclined to volunteer for community service compared to those without their noses in screens. The feeling of connectivity a phone provides, in theory, may in the moment feel like enough to replace physical connection. And so, when we’re digitally connected to our closest friends and family, the impulse to engage with or help outsiders diminishes. We remain glued to Instagram, instead of donating gifts to homeless shelters or building schools for kids.

This effect is called “virtual distance” by some analysts, and it has measurable impacts. The greater the distance, researchers have found, the more separated we become from those around us. We are less inclined to share our ideas, especially in the workplace. Smartphone usage also may prevent us from engaging with and helping others, whether out of distrust or isolation.

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Photo: Brandon Warren via Flickr.

The point is, when technology is used as a default for human relations, it can be harmful to their ability to produce real-world benefits. The key is to step back from the digital distance and re-engage with the world, including strangers. For children growing up in the golden age of smartphones, this may be more difficult task than it is for today’s adults, who grew up in a less tech-driven era.

Because mobile apps let users create their own worlds with like-minded individuals and friends, people have a tendency to become more insular in their beliefs and interests. Within a carefully curated social group, there is little room for discovery or new ideas. This can make people less empathetic, and block access to new social causes. While the availability to expand our minds and hearts is greater with smartphones, there’s also just enough information to reinforce complacency.

That’s not to mention the instant gratification of smartphones, which can breed mindsets unwilling to embark on new and potentially difficult journeys without immediate returns. The ease of mobile technology makes delaying gratification harder; the gratification of charity, in comparison to a tangibility of a Seamless delivery, appears more abstract in value.

Whatever the cause, interest in volunteering and charity has seen a precipitous decline in America. Volunteering hit its lowest rate in a decade in 2013.

The case for mobile charity

Every factor that might contribute to a perceived selfishness and detachment among smartphone users can also be used to the benefit of charities worldwide. The trick is in the delivery and expression.

Giving is a social act. Mobile technology can fuel anti-social behavior, as detailed above, but in the digital realm it begets a whole new type of social behavior: social media. Online networks can have enormous reach, and facilitate the constant sharing of thoughts, ideas, and content. When this content is philanthropic in nature, the reach alone can prompt awareness and drive donation.

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Photo: m01229 via Flickr.

Researchers say there are three reasons people give: one, because they want to; two, because they think it’s valuable to do so; and three, as a form of showing off. The third reason is a significant one when it comes to mobile donation, which has in many ways become a form of social performance. Think of the ALS Icebox Challenge, which had participants pour icy water on their heads, or the no-makeup selfies for cancer awareness. Neither explicitly required donation, but both raised huge funds along with stroking the egos of the people that jumped on the bandwagon.

Instant gratification works in the favor of charity, too — mobile technology makes donating as easy as one or two taps. When Facebook implemented a “Donate Now” button for nonprofit pages, they positioned themselves to become a hub for online fundraising. Mobile-responsive crowd-funding also lets users get involved in peer-to-peer donation projects. These easy social options have been hugely successful so far on all digital platforms, including mobile.

Text message donations can also be made by smartphone owners — for example, in 2012, the Red Cross launched a donate-by-text initiative, generating $46 million in relief funds after a deadly earthquake in Haiti. Now, there are various SMS processes and campaigns people can use to text pre-set micro-donations to different causes.

Lastly, mobile technology opens completely innovative ways for people to donate to causes that catch their interest. Mobile app Instead let users make small donations in lieu of daily expenses like coffee; One Today showcases a different cause every day; and Tinbox donates money from corporate sponsors in exchange for ad placement on your phone.

What’s the verdict?  

By numbers alone, people are more charitable than ever. As the planet’s overall wealth amasses and spending increases, statistically more of this money goes to charitable causes (every year, more of these are made on mobile phones.) Americans give about 3 percent of their income to charity, and this figure has not changed in the decades before or after the smartphone’s rise.

Generally speaking, then, it’s rather dubious to claim that smartphones have changed our charitable virtues for better or worse. More accurately, they have changed not what we do, but how we do it. It just so happens that smartphones have the ability to amplify our actions ad infinitum.

That’s not to say that mobile technology doesn’t have its pitfalls in terms of the behavior it can bring out in users. It sometimes seems as if people have traded in working to help their actual communities in favor of their digital ones, at a loss to psychical spaces in need of extra hands. I think that we should all be careful to engage more with real people and their needs than we do with front-facing camera phones — this said, there is a lot of value behind screens in terms of reach and convenience.

Nonprofits should definitely lean into mobile donations and campaigns that jive with what’s shown to drive progress. It’s simple: Make it a selfie. Make it instant. Make it social. Heck, make it a game. These are the new vehicles of charity — and though may never replace soup kitchen style volunteering, they do work. We can only keep faith that the desire to give back remains part of the human DNA, not to be overwritten by iPhone coding.

Featured image: Jon Fingas via Flickr

By |2018-10-31T16:02:10+00:00January 28th, 2016|Philanthropy, Technology|