Giving Back to the Community

Law Talk – By Denice A. Gierach
As published in the Business Ledger – August 10, 2009

Business people generally get a bad rap in the general press and in movies trying to make the business of making money a bad thing.  The reality is that many businesses that are successful have a genuine desire to give back to the community, which they do in many ways.

There are literally thousands of charities in the Chicago metropolitan area, all of which need help in the form of donations, manpower or active participation.  Charities rely principally on volunteers who provide the service directly to that charity’s intended beneficiaries.  However, many of them also need business people who can sit on the charity’s board and help to direct the business of the charity.  Whether your background is in general management, accounting, legal or sales, these charities can use your help in guiding them towards fulfilling their mission of helping people.

If you serve on the board of directors, besides helping to guide the business of the charity, you will also be expected to help to raise funds to keep the charity in operation.  Many boards expect that you with either “give or get” a certain amount of money to contribute to the charity.  This may be contributed to various fundraisers for the charity that you will attend and invite your friends and business contacts.

The need has grown so much in DuPage County, for instance, that many of the charities have outgrown their space and are looking to either to lease another space or to buy or build another building.  As in any business, there are a myriad of questions that need to be addressed in determining whether to move.  Beside the basic one of need, there are many questions as to whether the charity can afford to pay the additional rent or raise the additional capital to build a building, if the new property is in a good location to be accessible to the charity’s constituents, if the building has any possibility for growth of the charity in the future, if the configuration of the building will work for the charity, to name but a few.  Many times it is essential for the business owner board of director to give input to the charity, as the leaders of the charity have no real business background.  They have to rely upon the board to give the proper direction.

If you do not have the time to devote towards being on the board, it is still a good idea for the business owner to participate in their favorite charity by sponsoring various events and providing manpower to help at the different events which may range from golf outings to galas to ribfests to house raffles to Soup’s On, which benefits local food pantries.  The types of fundraisers are endless depending on the type of charity.

In addition to the normal fundraisers, there are also many ways to leave your legacy behind and benefit your favorite charity either while you are alive or after you have passed away, using techniques such as the donation of a life insurance policy that you continue to pay the premiums, using a gift annuity, setting up a charitable remainder trust or using a charitable lead trust.  Your estate planning attorney should be able to assist you in creating that legacy so that when you are gone, you will be remembered for all the good that you do.  Sometimes this memory is in the form of your name on a building or your name on a particular office or laboratory or a scholarship fund.  While this may seem egotistical at first blush, telling your story and your connection to the charity may be inspirational to others who become connected to that charity and especially to your children, who will find out from you first hand that it is not “always about them.”

While all of this is done in the spirit of giving back to the community, you will find that you get many things back from the charity, as well.  Besides having fun at the events, you will find that some of the skills that you do not normally use in your business as that skill has been delegated to another person in your organization are now useful.  You may also find that some of the people on the board become your best friends, based upon this one shared interest in helping out the charity.  It is certainly true that in giving back you receive.