Do you think of philanthropy as a worthy obligation or an opportunity for investment? For many business leaders, it’s the latter. They’re happy to write checks, but that’s where their philanthropy ends. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is different: He may be poised to take his philanthropic deeds to the next level.
Specifically, Bezos recently put out a tweet asking for donation ideas. He already provides money for an eponymous foundation, as well as other charities: According to Giving USA’s 2017 figures, he’s contributing handsomely to the almost $400 billion in charitable giving taking place in America this year. But Bezos also seems to be searching for some other way to make his billions count.
Perhaps he should consider using his funds to “pay it forward” and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs through the disruptive art of gifting, as opposed to mere cash donations.
Gifts needn’t be tangible; they can still be capital sums but sums that specifically help innovators get their dreams off the ground. Or, they can be gifts of time in the form of mentoring.
Imagine being mentored by Bezos! Richard Branson! Elon Musk! That’s like receving a blank check that keeps duplicating itself? Another valuable gift: a selfie with one of those guys that you could post on your site, bestowing on your brand a definite halo effect.
As they say, the possibilities are endless, for Bezos and others who want to make a unique — and noticeable — difference with their money.
Gifting as a philanthropic strategy
At the core level, entrepreneurs naturally look for ways to multiply their investments. At the same time, they crave affirmation because they’re constantly dealing with the grind of doubters. Gifting lets leaders accomplish both at once.
As a founder, you can make something two times, 10 times or even 100 times better and more effective by responsibly giving gifts. In other words, you can set up gifting as a chance to build and maintain a legacy.
Talk-show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres already does this with panache and just the right touch of fanfare. Guests often receive unexpected surprises: Consider the DeGeneres-named “Dads of the Year” who started Comfort Cases, which gives backpacks to foster kids to save them the humiliation of toting their worldly goods around in plastic garbage bags.
After having these founders on her show, DeGeneres not only presented them with $10,000, but also gave them four times that value in Samsonite luggage for the children they help.
What she bestowed was more than a simple act or acknowledgement of the men’s good work. Forty thousand dollars in suitcases goes a long way, and it frees up funds to go in other directions.
Adding gifting to the menu
Certainly, it’s always fine to give cash, but before you cut any more checks to your favorite charity, consider applying the following methods of gifting that can maximize your generosity:
1. Underwrite the cost of charity gifts. A huge problem for many charities is that they have to purchase the gifts they send to top donors. This sometimes leaves the donors feeling that they bought those gifts themselves. Awkward.
You can relieve this burden for charities by earmarking your donation to buy gifts for all the other people who give their time and money. The innovative and world-class Charity: Water, for example, has a list of donors and partners in what they call “The Well” who support the nonprofit’s mission through in-kind donations.
That specialized support — the “gifts” I’m referring to — allows all donations from the public to go directly to the charity’s projects. It’s incredibly powerful to raise money for an organization that is fully transparent, and where the masses know that every dollar they donate will create clean water for someone — not fund overhead, like rent, salaries and gift purchases.
Plus, if you tell a charity to use your gift “this way,” the organization can tell donors that the thank-you items they receive are coming through your donation, not out of the pocket of the charity itself. This is is a simple but persuasive idea to leverage.
2. Offer up your knowledge. What if you gave of your expertise as part of your philanthropic mission? For instance, instead of giving $10,000, you could donate $10,000 in logistical support or other help to solve back-end problems and streamline the organization’s processes.
PepsiCo has successfully put this strategy into practice. The food and beverage company’s Food for Good program leverages its industry experience and knowledge of logistics to provide healthful meals for free to families with low incomes. Other companies could follow in PepsiCo’s footsteps, or at least offer their experiences in the same way to benefit a charity in their own industry.
Yes, this is a bit messier than asking your accountant to authorize a monetary donation, but it allows you to roll up your sleeves. Take your innate skills to your charity and help it do good.
3. Get specific with your donations. In 2003, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offered grants to libraries in communities serving underprivileged populations. The grants could be used only for very specific purposes, such as the installation of computers, as well as library staff training and technical support. The goal dovetailed with Microsoft’s corporate vision of giving back and was meant to help impoverished individuals access information and education.
When done pragmatically, this method of gifting sets up a series of chain reactions. The student without internet access at home goes to the local library to study and gets good grades and excels in class as a result. Because of this child’s improved GPA, he or she receives a college scholarship. Eventually, as an adult, this person is himself or herself in a position to gift.
It takes a bit of forethought to plan a specific grant or donation, but if you do it with heart, you could change lives.
The next time you’re tempted to simply authorize cash in support of your preferred charity, stop and ask yourself the question: Could gifting bring you closer to truly helping the organization for the long haul? You might be surprised at the answer.