Business sometimes gets a bad rap for being cutthroat and selfish. However, entrepreneurs are some of the most influential leaders in our towns and communities—big and small. They have the potential to affect the people around them for good, and many do just that.
Whether you are just starting out in your business journey, or are already well established, we can all benefit from the positive example of those who have gone before. Here are just four examples of charitable entrepreneurs from whom we can learn.
1. Warren Buffet
As one of the richest men in the world, it is not surprising that I chose Warren Buffet as an example of philanthropy—he certainly has the means to make great contributions. However, unlike many of his wealthy counterparts, Mr. Buffet has taken a singular perspective on his personal wealth.
He believes that with his money comes a responsibility to society, commenting at various times about the failings of the market system (that has so handsomely rewarded him), and his disdain for inherited wealth and family dynasties. He has committed to donating the majority of his wealth to charity upon his death, leaving, as he put it in an interview on Charlie Rose, “just enough so that they [his children] feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing.”
Congruent with his philanthropic ideals, Mr. Buffet is well known for his large contributions to charities. Perhaps most notable is his $31 billion donation to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a global charity dedicated to reducing poverty and expanding educational opportunities. As the man behind the largest charitable donation in history, Mr. Buffet certainly gives us all something to strive for.
Though we can’t all give away fortunes of that magnitude, I think we can learn from Mr. Buffet’s dedication to the cause of charity and seek to apply a similar perspective when it comes to our own money and success—however large or small they may be.
2. Rick Schaden
Another notable philanthropist is Richard E. Schaden. Chairman of Consumer Capital Partners, an investment firm, and founder of numerous popular restaurants like Smashburger and Tom’s Urban 24, Rick Schaden is both a recognized entrepreneur and active philanthropist.
His efforts have been heavily focused on improving his own community of Denver, Colorado, where he and his wife, Cheryl, founded America’s Road Home in 2008. The foundation, which is affiliated with Urban Peak and Nexus C.A.R.E.S., works to raise awareness of family homelessness in Denver and the U.S.
In 2009, Mr. Schaden further demonstrated his commitment to ending homelessness when he donated $1.5 million to Mercy Housing Colorado for the construction of a 66-unit housing complex for previously homeless families.
In addition to his work to alleviate homelessness in Denver—where approximately 11,000 people are without homes—Richard Schaden also co-founded the Schaden Family Fund to sponsor local charities in Denver.
Though Mr. Schaden is certainly not alone in the world of rich philanthropists, his focus on helping his hometown of Denver is laudable. Too often, it seems, big money is thrown at big charities. While these donations are much appreciated and serve to do much good in our world, Schaden’s commitment to his own community is worthy of emulation. Whether you have a lot or a little to give, the greatest strides in overcoming social ills often come through local efforts.
3. Tony Hawk
When one hears the name, Tony Hawk, one’s first thought probably goes to skateboarding. And let’s face it: the man is a legend in his field. However, in addition to his prolific skateboarding career and entrepreneurial endeavors (like his popular video game series), Tony Hawk is also an active philanthropist.
In 2002, Hawk launched the Tony Hawk Foundation. Recognizing the need for more skate parks in the United States (where over 7 million people identify as skaters but only 3,500 parks are available for them to ride), Hawk created the organization in order to help communities develop local skate parks.
The foundation focuses on helping disadvantaged areas and fostering lasting improvements in society, preferring to work at grassroots levels with local communities to bring about change. Today, the organization has helped fund over 500 skate parks and awarded $4 million in grants.
What is remarkable about Mr. Hawk’s charity is how he connected his professional career with his philanthropic work. As a pro skater, Tony Hawk already had notable clout as an expert in the skating field. It was thus a natural progression to create a charity that supported this sport in positive ways. By doing so, Hawk is able to more effectively promote community improvement through the outlet he knows best.
When you focus on giving in areas that you are already invested in, the gap between entrepreneur and philanthropist is narrowed.
4. Craig Newmark
Finally, Craig Newmark, the founder of the popular website, Craigslist, seeks to use his influence on the internet to promote charitable collaboration. His organization, Craigconnects, is an online forum that allows other people and organizations to connect and learn from one another in order to bring about positive change in their communities and the world.
As the mission statement says on the homepage, Craigconnects is about “using technology to give the voiceless a real voice and the powerless real power.” The website serves many causes, including journalism, public diplomacy, open government, and voting resources.
Newmark’s charitable efforts are a good example of using one’s resources and expertise to promote causes. Moreover, we can learn from his innovation and creativity in modifying the original idea of Craigslist to create a forum strictly to bring together local do-gooders. Similar to Tony Hawk, Newmark takes advantage of his original platform and professional field to promote causes close to his heart.
Though you may not be a millionaire, your influence as an entrepreneur is felt through the communities that you serve and the people that you interact with. In our efforts to promote charity, goodwill, and positive change in our communities, we would do well to learn from these and other philanthropic businessmen who understand the importance of giving back, particularly when they have so much to give.
Jake Magleby has written extensively about effective marketing, sales, and financing strategies to help small business owners succeed in the fast-paced and ever-changing business world. He currently runs his own business blog, Franchise a Business, and takes inspiration from successful entrepreneurs like Richard E. Schaden.