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April 7, 2014

3 Best Practices of Real Generosity

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What do a nonprofit hospital in Indiana, an evangelistic Christian ministry in Central America, and a legal team trying to root out the sex trade in Thailand have in common? More than you think. In preparation for my new book The Business of Generosity: How Companies, Nonprofits, and Churches are Working Together to Deliver Remarkable Good, I had conversations with dozens of individuals around the world to ask questions just like the one above. One of the things I learned was that generosity can thrive in just about any channel with the help of certain insights, guidelines, and collective right practices. Here are three such common best practices I discovered that are galvanizing the world of generosity. How does your organization score? 1. Who’s the hero? It’s easy for big donors, celebrity spokespeople, or the leaders of businesses and nonprofits to want to attract the spotlight of attention toward themselves. Look at me! Look at what we’re doing!  But the hero isn’t the do-gooder; the hero is the one who is the object of the good that is being done. Smart leaders shape the narrative of their organizations so that the focus isn’t on an organization doing good but on the recipient of that good. If an organization tries to make itself the protagonist of the narrative, they will lose their generosity cred. Of course, if yours is a company engaging in generosity marketing, or a nonprofit hoping to raise your profile, you want some attention for yourself. And here’s where it gets dicey. Remember how AT&T handled the original TOMS Shoes commercial? I like this commercial because you don’t see the AT&T logo or hear the company’s name mentioned until twenty-eight seconds into the thirty-second commercial. 2. Organic tastes better. Every generous organization should make sure that the generosity fits comfortably with the organization’s i.d. Attempts to do good that are ill-fitting or self-serving create a bad taste in the public’s mouth. But if a generosity program is organic to the organization, it is more likely to survive and thrive. In other words, the generosity work needs to be core to the organization’s mission, model, product lines, or service. Toys R Us works with Toys for Tots at Christmastime. 9Lives cat food supports cat shelters. Philadelphia Cream Cheese is partnering with nonprofits trying to end child hunger. If the cause an organization supports doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to what it does, the organization that’s doing the good work had at least better become knowledgeable about that work and committed to it. Become an expert. Established companies that genuinely want to do good, as opposed to just looking good, can do it, but it may require some retooling of their ways. For every Warby Parker who has generosity as part of their startup DNA, there’s a Mars Candy that has put greater and greater emphasis on generosity as the years go by. It took transformation, time, and effort, but they’re doing it. 3. Collaboration. Too often in the past, organizations engaged in generosity have been disconnected and competitive, even (or perhaps especially) when pursuing the same good. This may have been helpful when it came to an organization’s self-promotion, and it even may have opened up some spaces for innovation, but it also put limits on what could be accomplished. Collaboration is a big idea to help solve many of the ills of our globe. For example, the African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships bring together the government of Botswana, the Gates Foundation, and pharmaceutical giant Merck to enhance Botswana’s national response to AIDS. In one of his TED talks, Michael Porter argues for “shared value” in which NGOs, companies, and governments work together. When people in the business of generosity pool their expertise, ideas, and connections and coordinate their efforts, it’s the difference between addition and multiplication. Both the givers and the receivers win. More than that, collaboration doesn’t cost much. It’s usually not hard to do. Just about any organization of any size, with any type of social focus, can do it. An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” And everyone wants their generosity to go far. In all honesty, that’s how The Business of Generosity came together. I talked with a bunch of friends and colleagues who were generous with their years of insight and observation. Keep an eye out for the upcoming book in the next few weeks. Like what you are reading? Subscribe Here.

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