Time is not on my side!

Dear Ken Keller:

I own a successful business. My time is at a premium and money is tight, because I reinvest back into my growing company.

It seems that I am constantly being asked by non-profit organizations to make a financial donation, serve on their Board of Directors, or both.

While I am flattered to be asked, I don’t have the time nor the financial resources for either.

What do you suggest I do when approached? —Rick B.

Dear Rick,

Part of success is “giving back” to your community.

Being sought out to support a non-profit’s mission is an honor. Non-profits, large and small, are constantly in fund raising mode. The help provided is never ending and no matter how much money is raised, it is never enough because the need is always present.

Businesses and individuals provide the three T’s that non-profits seek: Time, Talent and Treasure. You’ve been approached to make all three contributions and you’ve ruled them out over fear of over-commitment or a never-ending commitment.

You can avoid these concerns and at the same time support the non-profit community.

First, regarding cash contributions, approach the issue as you would any other decision related to finances in your company: what is the goal, what level of investment are you willing to make, for how long and to yield what result.

You need a set budget for each fiscal year on how much you are willing to provide in direct financial support to non-profits.

You will need to make a decision about which organization(s) receive the money, how much and for how long (commitment length) and decide what results you seek from the investment (this is called directed giving).

Don’t make the decision yourself about whom to support, ask your employees which organizations they support and why. This will tie company giving to your employees lives.

Not all of your treasure has to be a check; it can also be “in kind.” If your company has a conference room you might consider allowing non-profit boards to hold meetings there.

You may be willing to donate company equipment for an event or allow an organization to piggyback on your company’s purchasing power to reduce costs like printing or security.

Regarding talent, you might be able to donate company manpower for an event, or someone in your firm might have a skill or talent that a non-profit might find useful (music, MC, DJ, graphic artist, etc.).

You may also support a non-profit by having someone on your management team join a Board on behalf of the company.

When it comes to the commitment of time, at some point, you may be willing to join a Board as a member. My advice to CEOs is stay narrowly focused; pick one non-profit close to your emotions (heart) and don’t dilute your focus and attempt to expand your clock and calendar commitment to the detriment of your first obligation: your company.

I’ve tried to outline a process that will reduce your stress and help you get clarity about how the company can help local non-profits. At the same time it will allow you to proceed with growing your company and not feel guilty about not being able to help all who seek your support.