Don’t Give This Holiday Season

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Ever since my TED talk years ago, I’m often asked how to best donate for maximum impact. Start by asking, “What kind of impact do I want?” And “In what timeframe?”

These questions clarify what causes are ideal for you. Savvy entrepreneurs should think about two kinds of charitable giving: Personal and Business.

When it comes to Personal Giving, I have a wide range of causes I donate to with no strings attached. These are based on personal connections with leaders and issues I care about deeply. Donations around the holidays are great.

Obviously, how much you donate in either category is based on what you want to be about (for what it’s worth, my personal donations dwarf my business ones).

Now in terms of Business Giving, my companies only donate to causes that serve our ideal customers and with stipulations in place (sometimes called sponsorships). These are our marketing expenses for the year. As a leader of your business consider Business Giving for the following reasons:

Successful entrepreneurs always separate personal and business finances - including charitable donations.

Your marketing goal is to win the Like, Trust and Respect of others. Nothing does this with your customers and strategic partners better than generosity.

It grows your revenue which lets you donate even more the next year and so on. This virtuous cycle can change the world.

For Business Giving, the holiday season is not the best time because the massive pile of year-end donations reduces your traction (ie. a ten thousand dollar donation stands out much more in Q2 than in Q4).

Also, this isn’t the smartest time to strategically donate because of conditions I include with my sizeable sponsorships. Please note: if your donations come with conditions, they must be sizeable or else organizations (understandably) won’t accommodate you.

I’ve found that summer is a great time to reach out to strategic causes because there’s more time in an Executive Director’s schedule for networking meals. My preference is dinner since there’s more time to brainstorm and have a glass of wine/cocktail - which seems to help partnership discussions.

When choosing a recipient for Business Giving, look for these attributes:

  • Well led with a clear mission.
  • Has membership.
  • Members are ideal potential customers. 
  • Keeps in touch with members.
  • Top leadership is accessible.
  • Respectable people on the board.

Some stipulations for donations/sponsorships are combinations of:

  • Sponsorship recognition.
  • Have a dedicated landing page for this.
  • A regular column for their newsletter.
  • Highly-relevant workshops for members.
  • Meeting board members.
  • The right of first refusal for all sponsorship benefits.

Please remember, no cause should entertain any of the above unless you have a genuine concern for their mission.


Joon S Han

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Strategist Joon S. Han is author and TED speaker of “Get Ahead by Giving Back” and catalytic agitator for bright social entrepreneurs. He enjoys the magicianship of Penn and Teller™ and his pet peeves are when people say, “could care less” instead of “couldn’t” and when someone speaks on leadership when they’ve never led anything in their life. He most recently co-founded AwesomeGuests so check it out.