Defining Your Business Legacy Through Giving

Posted On: March 10, 2015

Creating a business legacy is an exercise that can define and transform a business and a community. One of the easiest ways to begin shaping a corporate legacy is practicing giving. 

Companies often flood the giving market during the holiday season but increasingly organizations like food shelves and homeless shelters need volunteers at other critical times of the year. Many nonprofits that serve the homeless and hungry, for instance, are inundated during the holiday rush with people and organizations antsy to serve and give (and check off their do-gooder box for the year). In fact, some have been so inundated with the goodwill of people around Thanksgiving and Christmas that they’re actually turning away volunteers and instead asking for help at other less obvious times of the year.

November and December are the two months most densely packed with messages to give, give, give. The pleas are extremely loud and crystal clear:

  • Give back.
  • Pay it forward.
  • Be socially responsible.
  • Volunteer.
  • Give big.
  • Give bigger.

The sentiment is crucial but the timing couldn’t be more stressful. While being busy and stressed during the holidays is not an interesting enough excuse to neglect giving and giving back, a different approach is to reconsider when a giving season makes sense for your business. The nonprofit service sector experiences the most notable desert of volunteers post-holiday. One often-overlooked time to serve a community are the weeks between Easter and Memorial Day when services for veterans are in higher demand and volunteers are harder to find. This spring, fill the gap and launch into a giving legacy that will inspire and instruct the future employees and customers of your business.

There is a wonderful push over the holidays to plan and organize a way for a business or company to engage in community giving but once the calendar turns to a new year the social pressure to show up and give back isn’t as strong and can even go dark. When you consciously choose to give back at a time that makes sense for your legacy goals your gifts multiply—to the community recipient (the food or housing you help with) and the employees in your corporation (the clear legacy of giving they can support and honor).

There is a simple way to remember the significance of your position as a legacy leader of a company: when companies give, their legacies move the future.

Defining a Corporate Legacy

A corporate legacy is something handed down from the leader of a corporation that guides and directs and can even establish the persona a company puts forth. Often when we hear the word legacy we think of families passing down an heirloom as a form of a legacy. While things and money can be legacies, a more precise way of understanding legacy is that it is about who you are and how you affect, touch, and inspire people’s lives. In the realm of a corporation or business it is how your business and products are understood and how you as a company touch and inspire your customers, partners, clients and employees (after you’re gone).

Legacies can be positive or negative—think Tom’s shoes with their positive legacy of “One for One” buy one thing, give one thing as both their business model and their business legacy. The Tom’s legacy is about touching the lives of people on both ends of a transaction thereby creating opportunities for both the buyer (making and proclaiming their ethical buying power) and the recipient (opening up possibility for jobs or safety or healthcare because of their new shoes, glasses, water source or birth kits). A negative legacy on the other hand might look like leaving behind a trail of dishonesty and severed relationships. No one wants a negative legacy.

Creating A Corporate Legacy

There are myriad ways of working on creating a corporate legacy. A legacy is something you will leave behind after your death. Perhaps that sounds morbid but it is a real question to start considering both personally and professionally. It is something you create and give knowing you will not see the fruits of the labor. Think of creating a legacy like the act of planting a fruit tree from a seed knowing you might not get to enjoy the fruit it will someday bear…but that others will.

It can feel unusual to consider the following questions and action steps but when working to create your corporate legacy you’ll find these are key to establishing a legacy that will move the future.

  1. Twenty years after I die, what will customers and employees remember about both my business and me?
  2. What do employees and customers see as my strengths as a leader and the strengths of my business?
  3. If I had to give every single thing I own to just one cause, which cause would it be? 
  4. What do I want to share with the world that I want others to continue sharing after I’m gone?

Of course you don’t want people to share your anger, jealousy, resentments, injustices, prejudice or worry. You want people to share your generosity, thoughtfulness, caring, creativity, brilliance, drive and energy. Nurture the traits you want shared right now even though you won’t get to see how they are passed on to the next generation.

Aligning today’s business goals in the realm of how you give, where you give and what you give correlates to the legacy you aim to create. Employees of today want to be part of a corporation with a legacy they can live into and continue sharing. They are looking for their corporations to have both meaning and purpose. It makes the daily commitment of going to work more pleasurable and meaningful if there is a legacy they can be proud to help bolster.

What this means for you is that it is time to get clear about what your legacy as a company is now and what you want it to be. With Easter coming on Sunday, April 5 and with the need for goodwill volunteers reaching a critical point, now is the time to consider the kind of legacy you want your company, business and even yourself to be remembered for.