I believe many of the problems in the world — homelessness, climate change, poverty, etc. — can be solved, or at the very least positively impacted, by businesses.
They have the money, the resources, and the influence to bring about change…if they choose to.
I launched Startups Give Back in 2014 because I felt there was a severe lack of corporate involvement in philanthropic initiatives despite having the resources needed to make a difference.
It seemed like the same scenario was occurring: startup launches, gains product market fit, grows, becomes profitable, and then (maybe) starts thinking about giving back to their community.
It was rare to see this scenario: startup launches, incorporates philanthropy in its culture, gains product market fit, grows, becomes profitable, and doubles (maybe triples) down on philanthropic initiatives.
The reality is approximately 90% of startups fail. This means 9 out of 10 startups will not reach a sustainable level of profitability, and will either close their doors or be acquired by another company. In both cases, the startup never reaches a point where they can give back in a meaningful way if the traditional scenario plays out.
This, my friends, is disappointing.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way.
Starting from day one
I believe companies can (and should) give back starting from day one.
In fact, over the past three years of running Startups Give Back I’ve seen more and more early-stage startups getting involved by volunteering their time and skills.
Let’s quickly debunk the traditional narrative around corporate philanthropy once and for all. Starting early doesn’t mean you have to write enormous checks for charities, so rest easy. Most early-stage startups, unless they have significant funding upfront, can’t afford to do this at their current stage — cash is tight.
But that’s OK.
What an early-stage startup can do instead of writing checks are things like:
- Opening their offices for nonprofit events
- Donating clothes or food
There are so many ways a business can give back to their communities beyond writing checks. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a look at some real-world examples:
- Optimizely uses its A/B testing software to help nonprofits optimize their websites
- Salesforce gives software discounts to nonprofits and has a robust employee volunteering program not to mention the Salesforce Foundation
- Lyft enables its customers to round up their fares for charity, among other impact initiatives
- 99designs enables nonprofits to run free design contests
The list goes on.
It all comes down to one thing: effort.
A big lesson I learned working at a company that made philanthropy part of its culture early in my career and running Startups Give Back, is that making a difference is so much easier than people think.
If we as a society are going to make significant change in the areas that need it most, businesses can’t wait around. They need to set the tone by leading from the front, not the rear.