Why do businesses give to charity?

It is very popular for businesses to give to charity or to support a cause these days. It might be the great influence this current generation has on business. Hopefully it will snap us out of our pursuit of growth and profitability alone to sit and ponder why our companies exist. But it is so tempting for businesses to find a cause to support simply as a marketing ploy or image enhancement. I strongly believe that profitability should never be a goal or aim but should be understood as a by-product of fulfilling your purpose. And that purpose inevitably will be in the service of some other person. Whether you provide products or services – your helping another person and bettering their life in some way should be your aim and profitability will be realized as a bonus. Now I understand you also have to be smart and real revenues must generate real returns – but fulfilling your purpose is what will make that significant and meaningful. I learned a great lesson about generosity from my two bosses a few years ago that forever changed my view of how and why businesses give.

In 2008 I visited an orphan care facility outside of Beijing. The work this team was accomplishing was nothing short of amazing. They were caring for some seriously disadvantaged children and were providing such an loving and caring environment for these kids as they awaited being paired with a forever family. While I was there I noticed their flooring really needed some attention, and being a flooring company, and being so greatly moved by their work, I offered to replace the floors at no cost.

At this point, I also had to convince the two owners of our company to let me follow through with my offer to donate the flooring. While I was pretty sure they would be easily on-board, their response to my request forever changed my view of giving.

I pitched the idea of donating some raw materials that were of good quality but that had been sitting in our inventory for some time.  I thought the owners would be motivated by the prospect of dumping some old inventory – albeit for a good cause – and getting a tax write off in the process. But I was surprised to find out they were nearly offended at the idea of giving the orphanage anything less than the very best floor we could make.

A number of years prior to this we had been asked to make a custom wood floor for George W. Bush’s home at his Crawford Ranch. Being a man of means, the President had requested a floor made from the king Bush Walnut Sigof the North American hardwood’s – black walnut. The owners of our company didn’t see the orphanage floor as an opportunity for a write off, but an opportunity to be a blessing. Not only did they agree to donate the floor, they instructed me to manufacture the floor for the orphanage out of the same materials that we used when making a floor for the president of the United States.  I learned a great lesson that day about generosity.

You see – we don’t think of ourselves as wood floor guys who happen to give a little of our excess to help orphans. We’re a group of guys committed to serving orphans who happen to fund that mission by selling really great wood floors.

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