By David Goldberg
I started my first business in 2006, having just quit a banking job in Los Angeles. Finance had left me uninspired and unmotivated, so I moved to Berlin and founded my first company in pursuit of fulfillment and purpose.
However, the reality of starting and growing a business wasn’t quite as I’d imagined. My idyllic vision of entrepreneurship was dashed by pressing business needs, as growth and survival took precedence over what I’d always wanted: to leverage my success to make the world suck less.
I also knew that a social mission brings extensive business benefits, yet after two years in business, I still had no idea how to act on that knowledge. I moved back to the U.S. and eventually to the U.K., but my frustration stuck with me no matter where I went.
Eventually it dawned on me: I couldn’t wait until I was a Bill Gates or a Tony Hsieh to think about my role in making things better. And if the solution didn’t exist, I had to design it. I started Founders Pledge to help all entrepreneurs stop thinking “I’m too busy” and start thinking about making a difference from day one.
The biggest business-building lesson I’ve learned along the way? A social vision is the secret for rallying talented, passionate people to your side.
Build culture with compassion
Philanthropy enables you to highlight values on which you can hang your hard work. Whatever your philanthropic goals, you can expect several cultural benefits when you build them into your company's core:
1. Attract the best and brightest: According to Cone Research, 76 percent of millennial job candidates consider whether businesses demonstrate social responsibility when deciding where to work. And a survey by Net Impact shows that 72 percent of recent graduates and students value a job “that makes a social impact” above other life goals like having children or becoming wealthy.
Founders Pledge is just a few years old, but we’ve built a talented team that’s united around our shared motivation to do good. By communicating your social mission through everything you do, you’ll grow both the quality and volume of your applicants.
2. Strengthen your brand: Your company is defined by its values. For today’s value-conscious consumers, philanthropy matters. Globally, 84 percent of consumers say they choose socially responsible products “whenever possible.” In a sea of clones, if you can align your values with those of your audience, you’ll find a powerful tool for differentiation and retention.
Authenticity, however, is key. Customers and employees see through socially conscious marketing when it’s not a top-to-bottom initiative. Leadership must be involved, and the philanthropy can’t be skin-deep or sporadic. To be taken seriously, even the company’s supply chain should reflect its positive values. Social initiatives become meaningless if you’re perpetuating the problems you hope to solve.
3. Boost employee engagement and retention: When a company’s values are aligned, so is its team. As at any company, our team members sometimes disagree with one another. That doesn’t stop us, however, from connecting over substantive social discussions, bonding over shared ideals, and thriving in a positive atmosphere.
But don’t take my word for it. A study sponsored by the City of London Corp. shows how corporate sponsorships and community involvement not only make companies more attractive to prospective employees, but also improve employee retention. Giving back quantifiably improves employee satisfaction.
Admittedly, in startup environments, that sense of community contribution can be difficult to feel directly. Working on an app for 12 hours per day doesn’t provide the same satisfaction as professions like teaching and nursing, which involve direct contact with those served. This is where a strong social mission is key.
At its Egypt branch, Microsoft boosted employee satisfaction by 49 percent just by implementing a volunteer program. That rapport-building role is a big reason why we give employees paid volunteering days off each year. Doing the philanthropic legwork not only reflects our social mission, but it also motivates employees to continue working on behalf of the company’s charitable partners.
Everybody wants his work to be meaningful. So if you — or your employees — are still searching for purpose, give socially responsible business a second look. It could be just what you need to breathe new life into your company culture.
Image credit: Pexels
David Goldberg is co-founder and CEO of Founders Pledge, a global initiative that helps tech founders and investors translate their commercial success into social good. A registered charity in the U.K. and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the United States, Founders Pledge has garnered 770 pledges across 22 countries worth more than $199 million. It is currently deploying $18 million from 22 exits.