The Power in Paying it Forward

“He who obtains has little. He who scatters has much.”–Lao-Tzu

When you’ve been blessed with any kind of success, in business or otherwise, one of the greatest things you can do is pay it forward. In many cultures, it is encouraged to take a percentage of the earnings you have made and contribute that to charity; a moralistic obligation that my parents chose to participate in as they could. In doing so, they taught us, their children, that giving is ultimately more rewarding than receiving, and the benefits last even beyond death.

My father was a deeply charitable man, though he never spoke about it. During his memorial service, a man of the cloth who had known him well came up to me and apologized for not attending the entirely of the condolences.

“I had to travel to Germany,” he explained, “and on the way I stopped by my office to pick up some papers. As I walked in, I saw a man sitting on a bench out front, crying.

“‘What’s wrong, brother?’ I asked him. “‘How can I help you?’

“The man was holding a newspaper in his hand and was in such a state that he couldn’t speak clearly. He simply pointed to the picture in the paper. It was a picture of your father, along with the announcement of his passing. When he finally calmed down enough to speak, he said between sobs, ‘This man used to help me every time I went to the factory. He would come and give me a hand, and he was always there for me during difficult times. I didn’t know he was the owner of the business. I didn’t know what his name was. All I knew was what he did for me, and now he’s gone.’”

I thanked the man for sharing this story with me and walked away with tears in my eye, What were the odds of that man being there at just that time, learning about my father’s passing at just that moment, and this holy man taking the time to come and tell me the story? It was like a gentle but powerful voice from beyond the grave saying, “Remember, son, you have to do good.”

Leaving a Legacy

This is the kind of impact one wants to have when they engage in giving to others. It is not a bragging right, not for people to know about. One does it only because it changes people’s lives for the better. Even beyond the grave, you have an impact. No matter where you are in life, you can do something good.

According to Strategic Philanthropy president Betsy Brill, “Businesses that are owned or controlled by families are using philanthropy as part of a business strategy and aligning the family’s core values with the company’s. It makes sense and can also be extremely beneficial to business objectives such as attracting and retaining great employees and improving the company’s reputation as a good corporate citizen with its customers, community, vendors, and suppliers.”

Businesses large and small, as well as individuals, have the ability to give back and make their communities a better place.  From education, music, and art, to community spaces and individual circumstances, there are so many opportunities to “pay it forward.”

Giving back to the community is also very conducive to the long-term goals of a family business. There is an inherent symbiotic relationship at work in supporting the local community, as the community, in return, is more likely to support the family business, which encourages more support on behalf of the family business, and so on. It is a perpetual cycle of good that only grows stronger over time as communities not only drive more support for the business, but also as the family and team members of the company feel increasing pride in their charitable deeds. In the end, philanthropy benefits everyone involved.

Charls Paikert, “Stepping Up at Family Firms,” New York Times, Nov 8, 2012, www.nytimes.