How to Be Generous in Business

November 17, 2014

I’ve written before about generosity. It’s one of the greatest antidotes to selfishness there is. Obviously there is no shortage of needs both locally and globally. I’m also convinced that it has never been easier for the everyday leader to get involved.

But the potency of individual generosity is far surpassed by the momentum organizational generosity can build. The difference is teamwork. One person can make a difference. A team can completely alter an outcome altogether.

Whether you lead an organization or not, I’d like to share several of many ways organizations can act generously, whether they earn a profit or not.

Generous Businessman

Make Money

It’s easy to be suspicious when we talk about altruism and profit in the same conversation. It can seem like a conflict of interest. But can I point out the obvious? If you don’t have any money to begin with, it’s a lot harder to be generous. Think about it: when businesses aren’t making any money, corporate sponsorships, employee development programming and hiring all come to a standstill. The emphasis is simply trying to stay afloat.

Even if your organization doesn’t have an elaborate charity program, just the tax implications of a profitable business can make a significant difference for a local economy.

At the end of the day, no one should feel guilty for profits that are earned legally and ethically. Among other things, they usually provide the first opportunity for generosity.

Meet a Need

Organizations don’t exist just for kicks and giggles. They have a job to do on behalf of customers, clients, patients, students, constituents – you name it. Although we may occasionally question the purpose of some organizations, ones that use their resources to meet legitimate needs do us all a great service. Does it still count as generosity if they get paid for it?

I like to use my dentist friend Mary Kay as an example. She’s obviously in business to earn a profit, but she places special emphasis on finding dental solutions that are the right fit for each patient’s individual needs, both from a health and financial standpoint. Obviously marketing campaigns and revenue targets matter. But in the “coldblooded” context of capitalism (whether real or imagined), going the extra mile to help a customer win is truly an act of generosity, especially when the need is great.

Share Your Organizational Niche

Not only do organizations provide valuable products and services, they possess significant amounts of knowledge capital. Obviously trade secrets are off the table, but organizations who share demonstrate they care. Banks know about money, so it’s a big contribution when they conduct financial planning workshops. Construction companies can donate not just materials for charity projecst, but also expertise. Who better to donate consulting hours to a new humanitarian organization than a consulting firm?

Your organization has something unique to contribute that the average Joe off the street cannot. It’s easy to write a check, but sharing your organizational niche often requires greater participation – and can return a greater reward.

Look for Ways to Reinforce Your Values

Core values matter. And when organizations find ways to be generous in the direction of their values, things really get fun. One of my favorite organizations, Chick-fil-A, places a high value on organizational leadership as well as chicken sandwiches. They’ve demonstrated that commitment by sponsoring one of my favorite annual leadership conferences Leadercast, which helps keep the event accessible and affordable for more people. Many organizations today make contributions toward health, poverty and green initiatives. Don’t ever feel guilty for contributing in the direction of your organizational values – whether you get good press or not.

Do it Together

At the end of the day, I believe each person desires to make a difference and the opportunity to be part of something great. Organizations can give that gift not just through their day-to-day operations but by partnering with employees (and sometimes even outside stakeholders) in the generosity process. Just a few examples are charity campaigns, company work days and matching contributions. If you want an organization full of generous people, involve them in the process. Do it together.

Generosity is a lifestyle. We need generous individuals in our world today. But we also need generous organizations. Can you join me in finding a way to help our organizations become more generous?

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.