While spending a week on Necker Island with Sir Richard Branson last summer, I had the opportunity to discuss his “B Team” concept in depth with him. The B Team is a group of internationally renowned business and thought leaders like Paul Polman of Unilever, Dr. Mo Ibrahim of Celtel, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post. The B Team seeks to accelerate the implementation of Plan B, an equal commitment to the planet and people, as well as profit. When I interviewed Sir Richard, he said, “We can’t leave every problem to government -- non-profits alone cannot solve the tasks at hand. We cannot continue to do 'business as usual.'”
Plan A for business has traditionally been to focus only on making the largest profit possible. You know that adage, "He who dies with the most toys wins?" That is how I have personally seen most people in business approach their corporate and personal success. Now we are seeing more and more successful businesses not simply paying lip service to giving back in order to make the world a better place, but really doing it!
Conversations are taking place in the marketplace that reveal this shift happening. Books like Conscious Capitalism by my friend Dr. Raj Sisodia and his co-author, Whole Foods founder John Mackey, and We First by my good friend, Simon Mainwaring, have become best sellers. It is encouraging to see that a new focus has reached critical mass and is rapidly moving toward the tipping point.
As I interviewed Sir Richard about the B Team and Plan B, he began to inspire me question what it would look like within my own company if we were to seek to implement Plan B. Then my thoughts led me to consider what it would look like in our communities if not only my company implemented Plan B, but many others did so as well.
What will change for the better when small companies adopt local issues and bigger companies adopt national issues and global companies adopt international issues?
In this article, I want to share four ways businesses can engage in their own Plan B focus because charitable activities are an important part of building a powerful personal network:
1. Create a nonprofit arm of your company. While you may feel that it is too costly or needs a lot of administration to create your own nonprofit charity, that’s simply not true. Most cities and even states have community foundations in which you would be able to create a donor-advised fund.
When my own company, BNI, started to really become successful, we chose to start a corporate charity with a focus on children and education. The BNI Foundation awards mini-grants to teachers who can't secure funding from their school districts or states for the resources they need so badly.
2. Get to know the nonprofit organizations that are working hard to support life-changing and environment-sustaining causes. For the BNI Foundation, that means learning what we can about organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, Junior Achievement and C5LA. They need resources, like computers and tablets, consultants and mentors, as well as host businesses so students can come in and learn about business -- to find the inspiration to press through their challenges in order to graduate from high school or even to dare to dream that they may one day go to university. They also need community members to be involved on their boards and with their fund-raising efforts.
In order to reach in and help out, you have to know what the needs are. Keith Ferrazzi, in his book Never Eat Alone, encourages us to use our lunch breaks as power meetings with others with whom we want to network. You can set aside one lunch per week (or more, as your time allows) to have with the organizers of charities you want to get to know better. This is a great way to develop relationships with the people who are pouring into the causes that matter to you.
3. Bring your employees and clients along with you. Show them how they, too, can help out. Consider holding a staff volunteer day at a school site that needs hands-on help. There are many ways your company can work together to address the many needs these schools have.
Without our help, inner-city high schools will continue to experience the average drop-out rate of nearly 40 percent. This is certainly not good for business! We need a strong, well-educated working class in our country. As we have implemented our call to action and are getting to know the educational support organizations in the major cities of our nation, we are learning that students who are able to access groups like Elevate New York, Boys and Girls Clubs and Motivating the Teen Spirit have a high-school graduation rate of between 95 to 100 percent
The BNI Foundation is starting an initiative we are calling Business VOICES (Business Values Our Inner City Education & Schools) to let entrepreneurs know what needs are out there. You can start something similar as it relates to your company’s cause or join us. You'll find us discussing this initiative on our Facebook page.
4. Host a Get-Acquainted Meeting for a nonprofit that is having a positive impact in your community. You can be a gatekeeper for the organizations which need support. You might have space at your office to host a gathering there. If not, consider underwriting a get-acquainted meeting at a local establishment. Some of these organizations have regularly scheduled get-acquainted meetings and would benefit greatly from your support in sponsoring one or several of these events.
Since BNI has a large national presence in the U.S., we are hosting webinars on a regular basis that spotlight one or two educational non-profit organizations. These webinars do not cost us anything to coordinate and they give a larger platform to the organizations we are spotlighting. Our next Business VOICES spotlight webinar will focus on a school in Ferguson, Missouri, that will have a chance to share with our business audience what their needs are and how we can impact the students there and have a powerfully positive effect.
These are just some of the ways you can plug in to Plan B and help make a difference. We believe business can change the world in thousands of positive ways!