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A Capitalist’s Path to Community Service

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This episode requires a bit of stage-setting. The topic is Community Service. Community Service driven by what I believe is a fundamental imperative for each of us; to help advance humanity. To make the world a better place.

Before I get into that, however, I need to acknowledge the fact that I’m a hard-core capitalist through and through. I unabashedly pursue profit. I’m proud of that fact. I’ve done so for my entire adult life and intend to continue to do so for as much time as I have left.

I also need to point out… actually, I guess I just need to reiterate the fact, that I really do firmly embrace the notion that each of us has a moral imperative to help advance humanity, and make the world a better place. I see exactly ZERO conflict, by the way, between aggressive pursuit of profit and advancing humanity by making the world a better place. In fact, without the former, the latter is not possible. Without profit donated from somewhere, what do I use to fund the Community Service?

Anyway, on with the episode…

We are all Community Servants. Or at least we say we are backed into a position to explain to somebody else the exact nature of what we actually do to serve our community. Pause for a minute here… Put yourself in that position. What is the exact nature of what you do to serve your community?

Here’s an easier, less discomforting a question. As you think about the community service you deliver, do you find yourself motivated to do more? Virtually everybody does. We all know for a fact that we could do more. That we can do more. And maybe there’s this feeling that we should do more.

But… Life intervenes. Our top priority – our primary responsibility – is to take care of our families. We therefore have to work hard at doing our jobs extremely well. We’ll get to that community service thing just as soon as things settle down a bit.

But we never seem to get there.

I’m not pointing any fingers here. I’m just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to saying things like, “Absolutely yes, I’d like to get involved. As soon as I take care of X and Y and Z – maybe about six months from now – give me a call and I’ll be all in.” And then I need another six months… And another six months.

I’m that way. You’re that way. All your family, friends and colleagues are that way. And you know I’m right! You’ve witnessed it over and over. And for you business leaders out there, here’s another scenario that plays itself out over and over… continued below

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I know for sure you have an employee who comes up with some great, grand, new idea every single week. He bursts into your office brimming with enthusiasm about how that factory production problem can be solved, or how to land that new, big customer, or how this software package can decrease expenses, or whatever. You handle this guy in the classic way, right? “Gosh, Billy-Bob, that’s a really fantastic idea! Can you take the lead to make it happen?” And then nothing happens.

Literally every capitalist, business leader knows that scenario. Any leader of anything for that matter, knows that scenario. In fact, every employee and every member of any group has at least witnessed that scenario. It’s exactly the same conundrum we all face with our desire to do more for our communities. We know it’ll work. We just never get around to the doin’ it part.

There are always two looming questions about great ideas, grand plans and lofty intentions. It’s the lack of good answers to these questions that causes all the nothing to happen.

  1. What’s the vision? In other words, what, exactly, does it look like when we get there?
  2. What, exactly, is the pathway for getting from here to there?

OK then… I made my living as a business consultant, so I’m putting on my capitalist business consultant hat to take a shot at answering those two questions with regard to delivering great Community Service. By the way, delivering great Community Service is really, really good for business. It’s right up there on a par with delivering great Customer Service.

So, in a business, at the place you work, what does it look like when you “get there?” Me? I see a profit center. And I’m going to call it a Willful Impact Business Unit. It’s operation complements and fits seamlessly into the rest of the business operation AND throws off a steady stream of value to your community. I’ll repeat. A Willful Impact Business Unit fits seamlessly into the rest of the business operation AND throws off a steady stream of value to your community.

So much for the 1st question, now on to the 2nd, How do you get there? To kick things off, officially establish a Willful Impact Business Unit. If you happen to be the boss, this is easy. Just do it. If you’re not the boss, assuming the boss is not a complete jerk, it will be easy to convince the boss to do so. It can be as modest and simple as writing a single check to some worthy cause, and then communicating that fact to all employees via the normal company process. Maybe it’s a broadcast e-mail that reads something like:

To:  All Employees

From:  The Boss

Subject:  Willful Impact Fund

Last month was a good one for us. As a thank you to our community for supporting our business, in the name of all of you, our valued employees, the company has made a donation of $X to Organization Y.

We intend to repeat this donation of a percentage of our profit every month. The Willful Impact Fund is our means of doing so. If you would like to personally contribute to this fund and/or nominate a worthy cause to receive our gift, please contact [Name of Willful Impact Fund Coordinator].

How’s that for a no-brainer? Many thousands of companies have been doing this much for forever, and many of them are also matching their employee’s contributions. But as a capitalist, or an employee of a capitalist, could you, can you, should you do more? Yeah… I think so.

And that’s where the Hierarchy of Community Service comes into play. It’s a framework for methodically, relentlessly and continuously increasing the magnitude of the positive impact your company has on your community. AND… – this is important – It can be profitable, and therefore self-sustaining. Implemented intelligently, your Willful Impact Business Unit can function and serve and grow indefinitely.

Let’s take a closer look at this hierarchy and get a feel for the path a capitalist can take toward World-Class Community Service. It’s represented here on a graph that shows positive impact on the community over time. Each of the five levels produces results that, just like an innovative new technology or business process, follows the classic “S” curve. Impact rises quickly at first, then slows down, then levels off. For example, at Level 1 – Donor, an individual or group only has so many dollars to give, and inevitably, growth in the amount of community impact from donations eventually stabilizes or even stops.

This slowing in the growth of your community service impact, is a signal that it’s time to jump up to Level 2 – Connector. A “Connector” reaches out to currently un-involved individuals and companies and groups and solicits donations from them. Growth in “connections” will also flatten out over time along a similar S Curve.

Level 3 – Worker comes next. Your time is worth more than your money. That gets proven every day you’re on the job. If you earn $100,000 a year, you for darn sure know your employer is getting $110 or $120K from your efforts. Otherwise, you’d be out of work. (Hmmmph. There’s that profit thing again!) Think of Level 3 this way… Someone still at Level 2 gives cash to the soup kitchen. At Level 3 that person is giving time as a worker, and is in the kitchen making the soup! It’s delivering more value than cash can deliver.

The impact gets even greater at Level 4 – Champion. A Level 4 coordinates the soup-makers, kitchen scheduling, delivery of ingredients, prepping the facility, etc., etc. Make that a lot more impact at Level 4!

The real goal for a real capitalist – for any for-real capitalist business – is to become a Level 5 – Catalyst. A Level 5 looks at those eating the soup and perceives their need for medical & mental health services, for housing, and for job search assistance, and proceeds to get all that lined up. The truly effective Level 5, also perceives their even more significant need for education and the profound, humanity-advancing impact of the arts.

Of course, there’s a lot more to each level than can be covered in just this episode, but you get the idea. Print out the image of the Hierarchy of Community Service. Look at it. Think about it.

Methodical, relentless, continuous progress is simply not an option. Not for your career. Not for your business. Not for your Community Service.

Want more detail, and best practices, and examples of moving up the Hierarchy of Community Service? Check out Willful Impact. It’s a new organization with serious backing from a bunch of “Level 5”  type folks. Become part of this network. Commit to stepping up a level, for both yourself and your company.

I’m your Intentionally Vicarious host Todd Youngblood – Still a capitalist and proud of it. Still chasing profit and proud of that. Acutely aware – even though many criticize profit-chasing as selfishly egotistical – that without the profit generated by we capitalists, there is no Community Service! And for the record, I’ve been at Level 2 for quite a few years. I got to Level 3 a while back for 5 or 6 years, then regressed. I’m back at Level 3 now, with an eye on Level 4. Clawing up there is going to be huge in ensuring that I’m still having more fun than anyone else I know.

If this episode got your brain working and/or your blood pumping – please tell all your friends and colleagues about it. Send them a link to the episode and/or show them how to subscribe to the Intentionally Vicarious podcast on their phones.

And finally, please consider visiting and making a donation to one of the genuinely worthy causes listed there. Generously donating some part of your hard-earned money is fundamental to you having more fun than anyone else you know.

Thanks for paying attention…

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • James D Roth says:

    Financial donations are as you say, necessary and productive. They are also the easiest thing to do. Being involved in the genesis of a charitable or community organization (your highest level) is much more giving of oneself. Typically the catalyst is also the hard-working, long-working individual who is most deserving of enjoying what meager leisure time is available. The old saying that if you want something done ask the busiest person to do it is true. The reward for service is personal and beneficial. I have been a key part of the planning and implementation of four not-for-profit organizations. They have been in existence for 34 years, 31 years, 20 years, and 17 years respectively. My measure of success is that no one remembers my role in the first three organizations. The focus is on what is necessary today and in the future in order to serve the targeted community. Credit for past efforts need not exist. If one has been successful in one’s career, sharing the lessons learned in that career should be freely offered in agape love, expecting no reward, needing no reward. Good thoughts you gave, thanks, Todd.

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