The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on June 16, 2011.

“We can change the world, but we’ve got to raise the bar.”

That was the message – one of them – that I got from Jason Saul during the American Cancer Society’s Corporate Impact Conference last week. Saul was the keynote speaker at the Awards Breakfast on Friday morning.

It was inspiring and encouraging to hear him explain how businesses can increase their profits by supporting charities and causes that are making a difference in the world. It’s not just good PR, it’s good business. And it can have far-reaching effects, with benefits that can enrich companies both in the immediate and distant future. But it takes more than simply making a donation and having their company logo listed in a program booklet. It takes active participation.

A company that implements health initiatives – an obvious example from the ACS would be a program that helps employees quit smoking – improves the well-being and productivity of its workforce and reduces health-related insurance costs. Investing in education helps to generate and prepare workers of the future for the jobs that will need to be filled. And working toward a cleaner and safer environment provides a number of benefits, both locally and globally.

The part about “raising the bar” had to do with the fact that while most – if not all – companies make charitable donations of some kind, the extent of their actual participation in programs and causes is often simply a matter of compliance. They are required by law to meet minimum standards for the benefit of their employees and protection of the environment. What Saul suggests – and he’s got fifteen years of experience with corporations and nonprofits to back him up – is that “doing good” generates a much bigger return on investment than simply the good feeling of doing the right thing or making a charitable donation. It impacts the bottom line, to an enormous and powerful degree.

One of my strongest personal beliefs is that for far too long, and for far too many people, there’s been an unnecessary and inaccurate division between making contributions and making money, along with an attitude that business and charity are mutually exclusive. That they are, in fact, at opposite ends of the spectrum. I’ve occasionally been accused of being naïve or of wearing rose-colored glasses for thinking that doing good (making contributions) and doing well (making money) could be part of the same equation.

What I promote in my speaking and writing – and what I’d love to see more of in the world – is people doing good simply because it’s the right thing to do. I know – and have seen firsthand many times over – that rewards, both tangible and intangible, come to us when we do. What I’m also looking forward to seeing in the world – and this was at the heart of Jason Saul’s presentation – is businesses and corporations doing good because they know it’s a good investment that will pay off in powerful and lucrative ways, ways that noticeably and decisively reduce costs and increase revenue. On both personal and corporate levels, this kind of thinking and action provides benefits for us all.

The reason I was invited to the Awards Breakfast, by the way, was because of my participation in Curves – which received a Corporate Impact Award for Employee Engagement – and in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, which Curves actively participates in and supports with a variety of fundraising activities. As a survivor both of cancer and of heart damage from chemotherapy, I am on both the giving and the receiving end of the benefits provided by Curves and the ACS.

But my involvement with both organizations has also resulted in some benefits I never expected, such as the opportunity to attend the Awards Breakfast last week. It gave me a chance to meet and talk with an impressive and influential speaker. To enjoy a lovely breakfast with people who are dedicated, motivated, interesting and involved. To learn of expanded viewpoints and challenging initiatives on ways to change the world and make us all better and stronger.

And it gave me an exciting and inspiring new subject to write about this week.

© Betty Liedtke, 2011