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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Executives and Giving Back

A number of readers of Media Realism have been quite successful in their advertising, marketing or sales careers. Several have contacted me over the last year or so with a very interesting question. To paraphrase, it usually goes like this: “things have gone well for me and I would somehow like to give back to the industry or to society as a whole.”

Some of these people have recently retired but others are very active in the business world in their prime earning years. All seem to be quite generous to traditional charities but want to go beyond mere “checkbook” involvement.

A few comments from executives who have corresponded with me:

--“I wrangled an invitation on to a cultural board in my city. The first few meetings were fun as fellow members were true movers and shakers in our mid-sized market. I soon grew bored. We had little impact on what was to be presented to the public. People wanted me there to have my firm do some high quality pro-bono work for the organization, write a really large personal check and get friends to buy high priced tables at their annual fundraiser. Also, they moved so slowly it drove me nuts. This was not my cup of tea so I resigned after a couple of years. I am still deciding what to do next.”

--“I started a small foundation. It has been great. My kids are on the board with me and we review grants together. It has help me bond with my adult children. Each one can pick a gift that they have final say on over the rest of us. Our selection skills get sharper each year and our targeted gifts seem to be doing some good. The big issue going forward is do we disperse everything when I die or does it continue (on a small scale) for generations. People do not understand that you do not need to be mega-rich to do this.”

--“I tutor high school kids in my city one afternoon per week. The school administration is not particularly friendly toward me but the kids appreciate my help. It is gratifying to see a struggling math student raise her college board scores a few hundred points and get in to a decent college. I plan to hire a former student when he graduates next year if I can afford him.”

What do I suggest? Community involvement and checks to legitimate charities are all good. Here is one thing that I have suggested to a few people who still have plenty of energy and fear boredom in retirement--Give back by finding a way to help young entrepreneurs.

Many of us have done well. If you see a young man or woman struggling with a start-up, why not give them a hand? If someone comes asking for advice, why not give it? It will not affect what you eat for breakfast or make you cancel that trip to the south of France. In some cases, you might want to give small financial assistance or buy a modest equity position or serve on their board. If things go bust, so what? Again, a small loss will not affect your lifestyle one damn bit.
All of us know in our hearts that it is not the government or schools or the non-profit sector that will turn America around. It will be who it always has been in the U.S.A--the dreamers who take a chance, keep our economy growing and who ultimately will be the engine of economic growth and job creation.

Experience may be the best teacher but it also can be a cruel one. Many of you have already traveled that road and somehow succeeded. Help these kids avoid the pitfalls. You must have something valuable to contribute that can help fuel the entrepreneurial spirit in our country.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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