Becoming more philanthropic as a business can be daunting, and Akhtar Badshah knows that first hand.
Badshah is the go-to source for companies who want to strategically get involved in the community. He spent more than a decade managing Microsoft’s philanthropy program, and in 2015, he founded Catalytic Innovators Group. The small consulting firm in Seattle — formerly located in Bellevue — coaches companies on creating and maintaining programs that make an impact and provides a training program for mid-career professionals in partnership with the University of Washington.
The conversation has to start with what kind of culture you want your company to have, he said. Are you a company that wants to invest and engage in the community? If the answer is yes, the next step is to decide how you want to get involved.
For businesses foraging through this process for the first time, Badshah shared some tips on how to get started, and how companies can be a strategic community partner.
Investing in a Cause:
Look at the needs of community to direct your decision, and be very narrow to start with, Badshah said. Pick something that you can devote some time to — it could be education, health care, homelessness, climate change, emergency services — whatever you’re passionate about. But don’t get stuck in the mindset of not being able to eradicate a problem, Badshah warned.
“Generally, what happens is business leaders come in and say, ‘This nonprofit doesn’t know how to function,’” he said. “Don’t underestimate what they’re doing. We’re never going to solve issues around education, or climate change, or food security. It’s not going to go away. Think about (the organization) as a professional partner, and bring them some new support. Think of them as a partner, not just someone you write a check to.”
Making a Meaningful Impact:
Badshah said companies should think about donating the three Ts: time, treasure, and talent.
“Writing a check is always good,” Badshah said, “Don’t underestimate that. But let’s say you’re a small marketing company. Most nonprofits don’t have the capacity to do any marketing. You can write them checks, but they don’t have a program to market their services. Offering your services becomes engagement, and now you’re bringing them some new support.”
Companies don’t have to give all three of the Ts simultaneously, but doing all three ensures your company will create meaningful change. Financial companies often donate their services during tax season, and that can become a several-thousand-dollar return for an organization just by donating a few hours of labor. That makes a huge impact, Badshah said.
Being a Strategic Partner:
After selecting an organization, plan on sticking with it a few years, at least. If your company is jumping from organization to organization, it’s difficult to make a visible impact.
“There are lots of times you’re asked by a friend to support a cause,” he said. “At some point, it’s not necessarily in your overall business interest to do that. Organizations know that. Not every company will support them continuously.”
When Badshah was managing Microsoft’s philanthropy program, his team would evaluate its programs every five to six years to make sure their approach was still strategic, and would take on some new projects. Companies with notoriety can start advocating for their organization, too, but there are several stepping stones that lead up to becoming an advocate, he said.