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A Smart Model for Integrating Business and Philanthropy

Published In: Altruist Partners Newsletter on August 1st 2011
Author: Donald Summers

We are extraordinarily impressed by CFO Selections, a Seattle, Washington professional services company providing businesses with expert financial staffing, from CFOs to Controllers. They are on a rapid growth track because of best-in-field performance and a highly integrated services set focused on the small to mid-sized business markets. But there’s much more.

What we applaud is their brilliant integration of philanthropy into their business model and cultural fabric. Too often, if a company gives away money in the name of philanthropy or “corporate social responsibility,” it’s a symbolic level of giving; the dollars are really about marketing and branding; company leadership isn’t directly engaged.

CFO Selections goes much further. They established an independent foundation arm and fund it (cash and pro bono services) in excess of six figures each year, a generous allocation for their modest size. But it’s not the money that is the key piece. Far more importantly, they gift their time and talent along with money. They’ve assembled an expert board that brings in an entire network of business leaders, partners, and professional affiliations. The foundation, then, is a deep talent pool of experienced business executives, accountants, professional development officers and others who together provide enormous value as consultants to do a deep dive on grantees and discover the most promising way to leverage the dollars given.

It’s not too dissimilar to what Social Venture Partners does with its expert volunteers and grantee pool. The smartest funders understand that nearly every grantee candidate has uncaptured efficiencies in their business model and execution. Instead of just “giving out fish,” this thinking goes, “let’s make sure they know how to fish as well as possible.”

What we like about the CFO Selections model is the scalability. Most every business with management acumen can integrate this “hands on” philanthropy into their business model. It’s a much more powerful story than just giving away a few bucks. These are leaders who dive into the fabric of their communities and are directly engaged with non-profit leaders.

This distinguishes the company as a leader that doesn’t do anything by half measures. It sets the company apart. Of course, it’s also a more effective way to contribute to the health of the community where the company’s workers make their living.

So even if a corporation is solely interested in its bottom line, starting its own foundation that deeply engages with funders and provides talent and time as well as dollars is a powerful way to create a respected brand. And it also happens to be the right thing.

As with so much in the philanthropic field, “smart” and “right” are the same. CFO Selections understands that true philanthropy, unleavened by marketing concerns, is paradoxically the most powerful marketing of all.

Topics: News