Doing Well vs. Doing Good: Dont Let Your Firms Charity Thwart Its Excellence

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

Every day we see examples of seemingly well-run, charitable companies slip and fall. We all shake our heads and say, “How could their leaders let that happen?” As dissimilar as these big and benevolent companies, such as AT&T, Adelphia and FirstEnergy are to from your business, could it happen to you? For those Clevelanders reading this, we all see that being the nation's most charitable city has not stopped us from slipping further behind economically. Here is a simple test for your business. As a business owner, which would you rather overhear about your efforts?

  1. He/she really knows how to run a business but does not give much back to the community.
  2. His/her business is not very successful but is always donating time and money to charity.

While neither statement is ideal, you would agree that number one is your lesser of two evils. As I watch many businesses and owners struggle to find their footing or stumble in growing to the next level, their focus on charitable efforts can be a culprit. Whether you love influencing your community or helping your favorite cause, there comes a point when “Doing the Right Thing” means focusing on your business. Here are six ways to tell when you need to do well before doing good.

  1. Your Firm is Not Profitable or Growing. If your business is in trouble, fix it first, and fix it now. Good works save few troubled businesses. The marketplace is savage, and demanding customers will bypass the good corporate citizen to patronize the one with the lower prices, higher quality or better service. When was the last time a company's crowing about its virtue really changed your buying behavior?
  2. Your Charitable Efforts are Incongruent With Your Business Goals. As the owner, you have the right to donate to the causes you believe in, but for your business to be funding Ducks Unlimited when you are producing roofing is a stretch. For many owners, charitable giving is really an opportunity for their business to subsidize personal charity to pet projects. Keep these separate.
  3. You Have to Cut Back on Your Charitable Giving Because of Bad Times. If your charitable efforts are directly tied to a certain profit figure, you may not be funding your own business to allow it to grow. Do not starve your own firm's future, as reinvestment in the business is critical in good times and bad.
  4. Your Customers, Employees and Vendors Wish They Were as Important as Your Charitable Causes. If your own people are suffering, your public charitable efforts may be misguided. Nothing is more of a warning sign than chronically low morale amongst those who have to deal with your business. Remember to care for those who allow you to be charitable in the first place.
  5. Your Charitable Agenda Becomes a Litmus Test for Those With Whom You Will Work. While tithing is an acceptable practice for a religious organization, many corporations put heavy pressure on employees to donate to “approved” causes. If sexual harassment is illegal, charitable shakedowns should be as well.
  6. Your Standards of Business Excellence Have Been Subsumed by Your Religious, Charitable or Social Agendas. Whenever a company begins to define itself by any means other than excellence in the eyes of its customers, trouble is sure to follow. America as the home of the free and diversity should also stand for the right of everyone to contribute solid performance at work and to personal charities at home.

While this article is sure to rile many who feel that focusing on doing well is an excuse for not giving to the millions of truly needy people and causes, clearly doing both well and good is ideal. A company who covets all its profits is a heartless organization, while a firm who gives all to charity will soon be looking to someone else for a handout. Giving from a position of strength is critical and here are some suggestions.

Steering Clear of the Pitfalls: How to Do Well and Good

  1. Charity Begins at Home. Ensure your employees, customers and vendors are healthy and give of your time and energy to see this happens. Americans are the hardest working people in the world. Anyone who is working hard for you deserves the help you can give.
  2. Tie Your Charity to Your Best and Highest Use®. Strive to give away what you are best at doing to make your chosen cause better. For a professional service provider to sit on boards that do not exploit his or her skills is a terrible waste of time and talent. Find a cause that ties your skills to your passions and give this away. As the father of a handicapped child who serves entrepreneurs, I am always pleased to provide some pro bono help to any such challenged business owner.
  3. Run a Meritocracy and Demand Excellence. Avoid favoring employees, vendors or customers who are justifying their poor products or services by all the good works they must provide as well. Support your charities consciously; do not unconsciously let your business subsidize ones that may be subverting the needs of your customers.
  4. Stay Connected to Your Customers, Employees and Vendors. Live and give in the real world of those you know and work with. Just as it is critical to understand your customers, understand the troubles and pains they are witnessing. The single cause I see for local companies declining is how disconnected many have become with the needs of their marketplace. Understand the pains of your marketplace as well as you do of your charities.
  5. Give Results and Outcomes Rather Than Money and Time. Every time I go to a big benefit, I always wonder how much I am really helping the people or problem the sponsor is representing. Doesn't it feel good to provide the person with the problem with the help, tools or actions they need to succeed? So often, going right to the source gives you as the owner a completely new understanding of how to resolve the pain and suffering you see. Just like finding new customer pains to solve, directly helping someone in need may take some interesting twists and turns and perhaps reveal even better unconventional solutions

Charitable giving should be tied to your business goals and should never impede them. By focusing on your best and highest use, leveraging your good fortune to help others and expecting a positive result from every investment you make, you can truly do well and do good. In addition, by doing both, you can make an ever-larger impact through your business, your charity and your legacy.

Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at  (412) 973-2080, by email at, or on the web at

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