As entrepreneurs, we're responsible for every dollar we generate and how it's spent. We make choices about the allocation of resources, measured against the return on that investment. If we don’t generate revenue, we won't be sustainable.
There's something to giving away your services, products and offerings. Call it karma, good vibes or what have you, but numerous studies point to the physical, psychological and even spiritual benefits of charity.
Five years ago, I volunteered my expertise and services to transitioning military personnel. Daily, I receive the emotional benefits of donating my time and energy when a Marine or Air Force veteran thanks me for helping them find a foothold in their career after they take off the uniform.
And the rewards don’t end there. When helping others, I benefit in the following ways -- so can you.
1. Aligning your company or personal brand with a cause
Many companies and entrepreneurs are pushed to support multiple, disparate causes in their industry or community. Perhaps a client asks you to buy a table at their favorite event or a key business prospect is encouraging your support of the nonprofit they believe in.
Instead of spreading yourself thin, focus your giving to a specific cause or community. A popular car dealership in Denver donates to causes related to children or education. Their business platform and marketing targets parents and community-based organizers. This is reinforced with their company philosophy of “investing in the next generation of Denver leaders” through primary education initiatives.
My cause alignment was less intentional. I was passionate about helping those who didn’t have access to the information and skills that I train corporate professionals in every day. When an opportunity presented itself to do just that, I knew I could make a difference. Today, my personal brand and my company profile are closely aligned with serving former military transitioning to civilian careers.
2. Growing your learning and capabilities
If your business or product serves a niche audience, you can risk becoming narrowly focused. Donating your time, expertise and resources outside of that target demographic provides the opportunity to learn, lead and grow in unexpected ways.
One of my clients works in the natural resources industry. He deals with investment partners, operating companies and thought leaders all trying to effect capital markets and sustainability in this global movement. In his free time, he teaches and mentors college students interested in sustainability. He often talks about how much he learns from their unfiltered questions, examples and projects that he would never have the opportunity to learn if he didn't branch out.
My exposure to the unique and frustrating challenges facing former military personnel has certainly served me professionally. Like most of us who are well-versed in our areas of expertise, I crave new information and insights. Hearing the questions and concerns of vets trying to fit into a corporate world provides me with ideas about new products and services I can develop to aid their transition. This learning stretches my capabilities, and I grow as a professional as a result.
3. Gaining competitive advantage and positioning
While I advocate serving and volunteering out of the goodness of your heart, there's a business advantage to reaching into new markets and communities where your offer could be at a premium.
A personal branding client of mine, who established herself as a high-profile woman CEO in a male-dominated industry, struggled with finding her next passion after leaving corporate America. When she volunteered her talents and experiences to help other women climb the ladder in this same industry, she began to carve out a unique positioning.
She wasn't teaching women everywhere how to be more effective and fulfilled; she narrowed her focus to the industry she just left and earned tremendous competitive positioning, resulting in a best-selling book and speaking tour.
My passion for serving former military has led to inquiries from corporate training, diversity and human resource teams looking for me to teach them how to recruit and retain vets as employees. My reputation and credibility in this niche positioned me as an expert with unique insights. I have a competitive advantage over others who teach corporations how to hire and onboard, and there are personal and professional benefits that accompany my service.
The rewards of donating, serving and giving back are immeasurable. In addition to the joy you get from helping others, it can also be an opportunity to create unique and viable business opportunities.