It Does The Business Good

Meeting The Challenges

Family businesses are often beleaguered by requests for money, time, goods, donations and the like from causes across the spectrum. So they frequently wind up giving a mile wide and an inch deep-and wondering whether they're making a difference.

To gain control of the process, Remmer suggests dividing your community commitment into two separate efforts. The first is to set aside a certain amount of time and money to causes and issues; because you're a family business, you'll be expected to contribute as one. The second part is to develop a strategic project that has a much greater impact on community and society than scattered gifts. That means getting completely involved. In Therma-Tru's case, family members have immersed themselves, physically and mentally, in Habitat for Humanity. They serve on the board, help to fund the office of the executive director, donate doors and volunteer for building projects.

Another challenge that faces family businesses is to make certain one person doesn't run away with all the glory. Says Aronoff, "If credit isn't appropriately distributed among owners or the management team, or if one person is trying to take advantage of the company's largess to enhance his or her social standing in the community, there's bound to be jealousy."

Also, take advantage of your employees' desire to be involved in philanthropic endeavors. "People were always coming to us and asking for guidance in how they could get more involved in their communities," says Welles, "so setting up charitable contributions committees at company headquarters and at manufacturing plants seemed like a good idea. But our associates knew their communities best and established their own criteria for giving. Neither my father nor I are on these committees." Finally, Welles says, "I know the associates feel very good about what they're doing and are tremendously rewarded by having a say in the company's philanthropic efforts."

Patricia Schiff Estess writes family business histories and is the author of two books: Managing Alternative Work Arrangements(Crisp Publishing) and Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage(Betterway Press).

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This article was originally published in the April 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: It Does The Business Good.

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