Sometimes you can’t even give it away

Social entrepreneurism is an important model to observe and perfect if we’re going to make fundamental changes. It’s also important that we define and support it… and that’s not always easy to do.

When I interviewed Laurie Loew last year, what she told me about being a social entrepreneur stuck with me. Laurie is an Austin realtor who gives 25 percent of her commission to the charity of the seller’s choice in the seller’s name. She’s essentially a “realtor for good,” as is the rest of her team at GiveRealty. (Which donated almost $37,000 to local charities last year, BTW.)

And although you’d think nonprofits would be lining up to support her, that’s not always the case. Here’s Laurie:

“I think social entrepreneurs feel they need to do more for the community and be more involved and helpful, and we’re trying to figure out ways to do that. But it’s much harder for a small business – the price of admission to get on the nonprofit radar is way too high.

“Big companies can write the big checks that get attention. But the local coffee shop is just struggling to stay afloat. And it’s very hard for small businesses to feel like they can have an impact when the dollar amounts they can give are very small.

“I guess you would hope the nonprofit community would encourage small businesses – the ones that give back – and support what we’re doing. They can be some of your biggest promoters in a lot of ways. Their audience is the kind of people you’d want to be your clients.

“I understand why nonprofits can’t promote any particular small business. That’s why I’m a part of several groups – from Bootstrap Austin to I Live Here, I Give Here, the Austin Chamber, and others. We’re looking for ways for small businesses who want to have a social impact to work together to make the whole thing easier.

“Maybe that’s what it will take – someone forming a larger group that can make the case for social enterprise. But it’s got to be genuine and it’s got to be easy. I’m a small business owner. I’m very busy!”

 Learn more about social enterprise in Austin.

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5 Responses

  1. I am happy to hear this perspective from a small business owner that contributes a percent of profits to charity. I have been trying to build some kind or relationship between business and non-profits in my area. I am not that surprised to find just a little interest on the part of the businesses, but what did surprise me was the lack of interest from the non-profits in trying to learn about how to engage local businesses.

    I have been following Giving City for quite some time and find all the stories about business philanthropy great role models. I even posted a story awhile ago about a featured business on my blog: http://www.businesssthatcares.blogspot.com.
    Keep up the great work-There is trend for small business philanthropy, that you are on the forefront of.

  2. Thanks, Lalia! And thanks for telling us about your blog. I subscribed.

    You’ve got some really great content there, especially for entrepreneurs and small businesses trying to integrate philanthropy with their business models.

    You should check in with I Live Here, I Give Here, which I believe started a group for small businesses that give back. Laurie Loew helped with that, I think.

    Good luck!

  3. Laurie, what a wonderful commitment it is for you to donate 25% of your commission to charity! Thank you for your generosity and clear focus on giving.

    At Ronald McDonald House Charities we recognize that it is all about relationships – with those we serve, with our volunteers, and with our donors. We are constantly challenging ourselves to do a better job in all of those relationships!

    Thank you for the reminder early in this new year of the importance of recognizing small business donors.

    Jan Gunter
    Communications Manager
    Ronald McDonald House Charities

  4. So you have the same problem in Austin too?

    I’m the volunteer Executive Director of a small nonprofit in Denver, Colorado. I moved to Denver almost 5 years ago now… wow time flies… and believe that there are just some nonprofits that don’t see, or even don’t want to see, the bigger picture.

    There is a syndrome in the nonprofit world called “Founder’s Syndrome”. As I’m sure you know, this occurs when a Founder of a nonprofit takes such tight control of an organization that no new ideas, no new people, not even new resources that might help the organization can be implemented becuase of that type of control. I recently heard from a Board member of a small nonprofit that she had never even seen a budget for the organization she is fianicially responsible for as any Board member of any organization is! Yikes!

    Honestly, money is great, but where small businesses fail in their efforts to do good by a small nonprofit is to not realize the ture needs of that small nonprofit. Lack of resources is the biggest challenge small nonprofits face. Money, unless it’s a large amount, does very little to meet their needs.

    Its like this. You are a struggling family. You need to feed your family. Someone gives you $20.

    Now, most people will say that $20 can buy a BUNCH of food at the grocery store. Hot dogs, Mac and cheese, and other items that, although may not be the heathiest, are cheap, and you can buy enough for a few days worth of food for the entire family for sure.

    But, at home, the family does not have a pot big enough to cook enough food at once for the entire family. The parent has to work two jobs and does not have the time to cook multiple meals. So what do they do with the $20? Go to McDonalds and get food for 1 meal for the family rather than a lot of food for the family for multiple days! Why? Because they do not have the resources to truly take advantage of what has been given to them.

    Solution: Find out the true needs of these organizations and leverage your donation to secure these needs. If you are going to donate $500, find out what the needs are, the WISH list of the organization, and leverage your $500 to get as many items off of the wish list as possible. Use your contacts to strike bargains, even get items donated, instead of the NPO using that $500 to purchase just one thing.

    Find Volunteers that can help with the work load of a small nonprofit. Use your contacts to leverage the best commodity of all, TIME!

    Research: You will have to do some research about the organziations you give to before you do this type of “assisting”. Know if the organization is open to new ideas, new people, new ways of doing things. If there is founders syndrome, it will never work well. But you can find very open small NPO’s that would love your help!

    I hope that we can all learn new ways of doing business in 2010! Your help is appreciated I’m sure and I hope you can use my suggestions to better your area of the country as much as we are trying to better ours!

    Happy 2010!

    Sincerely,

    Kevin

  5. You make an excellent point, Kevin. Small businesses, like individual donors, shouldn’t assume that the nonprofit can leverage the donation when they actually have immediate needs to be met.

    It does come back to our having the responsibility to make education donations. We’re going to do our best to communicate nonprofit needs for donors in the future.

    If only we could get funding! Thanks for your comment.

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