Standing on shoulders — how great is your business?

Learning experiences

My best business lessons come from my clients. Central among these lessons is that good businesses make money, but great businesses build communities that make good business possible. “Great businesses” doesn’t mean only big public corporations. Private businesses are not only the foundation of our economy – they are essential to civic infrastructure. No other group of community leaders brings to bear the skills and entrepreneurial drive of the man or woman who owns a business.

A company that invests in its community not just money, but the talent and passion of its people, especially its owners, positions itself to move from being a success to being significant. “Being a good corporate citizen is good for business. Companies that give by donating money, products and services or volunteer time gain recognition by supporting their communities. Corporate giving can increase your company’s visibility, reputation for goodwill and employees’ sense of purpose.” — The Denver Office of Strategic Partnership’s Business Good Citizenship Kit.

The ongoing economic crisis could be an easy excuse to skip investing time in your community, but in actuality this is the best time to take this step. As the need is great, so is your potential reward. But like any investment you need to do your homework. Boardsource offers materials to help you in this process; particularly valuable are their questions to ask before joining a board. In Colorado, check out the resources of the Colorado Nonprofit Association and Metro Volunteers.

A business is usually structured to take advantage of the protections our laws allow against personal liability for business activity. Your board service should be approached in a similar vein. Above all, understand your duties as fiduciary to the institution, your risk if you fail to carry out those duties, and the liability insurance carried for board members. I’m not bringing these up to scare you off, but to get you focused and informed. A good nonprofit will approach these matters proactively and train you to be a quality board member.

If you are ready to engage in your community, but you aren’t sure of the issues or organizations needing support, your Chamber of Commerce should be among your first stops. The Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation was created by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce 35 years ago to prepare and connect leaders from the business and civic communities to strengthen Colorado’s future. As a participant in a number of the Foundation’s programs, it would be easy for me to conclude with accolades for the Chamber and Foundation, but before we pat ourselves on the backs, we ought to look at our feet for they are firmly planted on the shoulders of the generations before us.

In looking at my feet, I see shoulders stretching back 150 years to when “Denver would soon be too dead to bury.” The business owners of that day used their money, passion and leadership to connect our city to the new transcontinental railroad. Sure it was good for their companies, but it ensured a future for our region and for every business yet to come. That is what great businesses do.

Dedicated to a great businessman, my client, friend and teacher, Wayne Berger. For just one example of Wayne’s civic leadership, visit Facing History and Ourselves.

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