Jeff Bezos, Philanthropy and How Entrepreneurs Can Do Their Part
Bezos has been a philanthropic laggard among billionaires but with a single tweet he announced a turnaround that sparked a larger conversation about giving.
In a recent tweet, Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, sent out a request for ideas. He announced that he’s looking for advice on ways to improve his philanthropy strategy in the present -- as opposed to just the future. In doing this, Bezos sparked an important and timely conversation.
Bezos: "How can I help people now?"
In a tweet sent out to his more than 246,000 followers on June 15, Bezos, the Amazon CEO and billionaire, solicited some public feedback. “I’m thinking about a philanthropy strategy that is the opposite of how I mostly spend my time -- working on the long term,” he wrote.
Bezos then went on to talk about some examples he’s recently seen with Amazon and other companies, before concluding, “I’m thinking I want much of my philanthropic activity to be helping people in the here and now -- short term -- at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact. If you have ideas, just reply to this tweet with the idea (and if you think this approach is wrong, would love to hear that too).”
The public statement about philanthropy is something new for Bezos. Despite the fact that he’s worth an estimated $83 billion and counting, the business mogul has never appeared on the Philanthropy 50, an annual list of America’s 50 largest donors. In fact, he’s one of just a handful of billionaires in the country who hasn’t signed the Giving Pledge.
The pessimists of Twitter quickly responded by calling Bezos out over his refusal to sign the Giving Pledge, while optimists gave him a bit more leniency and viewed the tweet as a sign that he’s starting a new chapter.
The larger conversation
Larry Brilliant, former head of Google’s philanthropic efforts, is one of many people who are puzzled by Bezos' tweet. As he says, “The denominator of ideas you will get in, the vast majority of ideas which are not good, not viable, will flood this process.”
But what if there’s a bigger point? What if this isn’t about Bezos and what he should do with his philanthropy strategy? Perhaps this is a springboard for bigger conversations, like the role entrepreneurs, big and small, play in giving back to local communities.
Entrepreneurship and philanthropy should always go together. And whether you run a business that isn’t yet profitable, or you’re in charge of a multi-billion-dollar organization, generosity should always be on your mind. Here are a few ideas to get the wheels turning:
1. Partner with local charities.
There’s nothing wrong with giving to global charities, but there’s something special about giving back to organizations in your area. Are there certain groups that you can help grow without leaving your zip code? You’d be surprised by the opportunities that exist.
2. Start a program or foundation.
If you have a large sum of money to contribute and have the time to get personally involved, starting a program or foundation as part of your company is very rewarding. The beauty of starting a program is that you get to choose an area of need that you’re passionate about, and address it in whatever way you see fit.
3. Empower employees to give back.
Want to give back to the community, while simultaneously engaging your employees? One option is to empower your employees to give back. For example, instead of giving $10,000 to one charity in your company’s name, why not give each of your 10 employees $1,000 to give as they see fit? One employee might give his money to a local Habitat for Humanity home build, another to buy food for a homeless shelter, another to send a child on a school trip, etc.
Philanthropy: A collective responsibility
The thing about Bezos is that he doesn’t like to do things in a normal manner. He isn’t keen on just cutting a check to an organization and calling it a day. In all likelihood, the purpose of his tweet was to gain a new perspective that would allow him to pursue something unique and revolutionary.
As philanthropy advisor Steve Delfin told The New York Times, “We know that he hasn’t been very receptive to traditional philanthropy. My guess is that at some point, he will create an innovative new model or a hybrid approach. And maybe, like Amazon, he’ll do it better.”
As Bezos contemplates how he can become a better philanthropist, we should do the same. As entrepreneurs, we have an opportunity to give back to the communities that have helped us become successful. Instead of pointing the finger at Bezos and trying to tell him where his money should go, we should all look at our own accounts and consider what generosity looks like in our own lives.