Creating impact doesn't always come from smart marketing moves. You can make just as much of a difference by gathering enthusiasm and dedication for a cause that goes beyond-or sometimes has nothing to do with-business.
Years ago, Masood Vojdani, now 44, was a penniless college student. He had been comfortable growing up in Iran, but as a university student working on commission at an insurance agency, he was broke. He couldn't even afford gas for his car. So every day, Vojdani left his dorm at 5 a.m. and walked eight miles to his office. "I had no money," says Vojdani. "I used to eat one egg and stale bread each day for over 40 days."
Vojdani eventually started his own company, GV Financial Advisors, a full-service financial planning firm based in Rockville, Maryland. But he didn't forget what it felt like to be in need. "I've been lucky that success has come to me, and I'm grateful. I worked very hard to get where I am, but sometimes people don't get the opportunity to work hard."
Vojdani tries to impress upon his 54 employees the importance of making a charitable impact on the community. Once a year, he invites his staff and their family members to volunteer with him and his family, paying employees their full pay for the day. They have served the homeless at Thanksgiving, and they've painted and cleaned homes for people who are transitioning from life on the street.
Since starting the volunteer program in 1994, "We work much closer as a team, and everybody believes in a cause. They have more energy, and they know what the company stands for," says Vojdani, who notes that he and his employees volunteer in the community in other ways, such as being Big Brothers to disadvantaged kids.
Vojdani often packs his SUV with food, blankets, soap and other necessities, and drives to downtown Washington, DC, where he passes everything out to the homeless. Clients sometimes accompany him. Vojdani recalls how one wealthy client ("With one year's salary, he could feed a thousand people a day") reacted on one of the trips. "[He] was amazed, stunned, happy, sad, and thinking, 'Why didn't I ever look at the world this way?'" Vojdani is convinced he made an impact on his client. For other clients, GV Financial Advisors will match up to $50 of a charitable donation.
Vojdani doesn't do any of this to make money, but there's little doubt that it helps the company. In an economy that hasn't been kind to the financial sector, GV Financial is poised to bring in $7.5 million in 2002, a 17 percent jump from the previous year.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.