Philanthropy: Is It Selfish or Selfless?

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Photo on www.azcentral.com, courtesy of the Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation, Bob Parsons visiting with Haitian schoolchildren.

It’s Saturday morning. You and the guys are in the clubhouse hashing over the back nine when someone brings up the new company social networking policy. The CEO wants to involve employees in the latest community service project.

The conversation shifts back and forth between how many Mulligans Phil took and whether the boss is just trying to drum up some free advertising with the charity barbecue. Phil says the boss could learn a thing or two from Alexander Graham Bell. What? Then he tells everyone that the “social network” Graham was part of 100 years ago is still going strong. It’s the largest industry-specific community service group in the nation today — donating more than 15 million man hours a year. Now that’s a social network.

The Pioneers

Philanthropy doesn’t have to be boring and all about large tax write-offs and public branding. Just a handful of people with similar passions can make a huge difference in the lives of people in their own neighborhoods, often quietly in the background and without much fanfare.

Graham’s group, the Pioneers, sponsors diverse service projects that include hosting an Easter egg hunt for the blind, playground maps encouraging kids to learn about geography and the TOT Project, which provides therapeutic tricycles to kids with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. With free bikes, kids who cannot walk without braces learn to explore the world safely on wheels.

Learn more about their projects by visiting pioneersvolunteer.org. The Corporation for National and Community Service offers dozens of tips and guidelines to get you started. Just go to www.serve.gov and click on the Find Toolkit button.

The Bob and Renee Foundation

While some large family foundations are always in the news (think Bill and Melinda Gates), some couples who have “made-it-big” financially are among those who quietly give in the shadows of philanthropy. Bob and Renee Parsons of Scottsdale, Arizona, is a “happy in the background” philanthropic couple. The Bob Parsons, GoDaddy founder, shared his reasons for creating the Bob and Renee Foundation with J. Craig Anderson of azcentral.com in a December 2012 interview. Parsons expressed his deep appreciation and compassion for Arizona residents because that is where he earned his living. The foundation donated in excess of $12 million in 2012. Parsons expects to continue to give millions every year.

NextGen Cares

Community service projects and philanthropy activities don’t have to be bigger-than-life to make a difference. Inspiring co-workers to get involved in small ways multiplies the efforts, which is how SaaS developer Quality Systems operates. The company founded a philanthropic division called NextGen Cares to facilitate employee donations and volunteer efforts. In 2010, employees could donate $2 for the privilege of wearing jeans to work in their 2010 Jeans for Haiti project. The company matched the donations and netted $2,500 for the Red Cross.

Philanthropy is about inspiring and being inspired. Want to inspire? Find your passion and then go for it. Love golf? Check out Buzzle’s tips for organizing a company scramble for charity. Set a date. Post information on company social networking sites and bulletin boards. Need inspiration to get started? Visit philanthropy-impact.org. Read the strategies of other service-minded entrepreneurs and business leaders.

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