As a business, we assume we're always giving by solving our clients’ problems. At ZEAL, we do great work. We provide services and clients pay for that value…and on and on we go. This is transactional, of course, and a tried and true model. Without clients and money, your business dies. So, we form habits around the presumption that this way of doing business is the only way.
At what point, though, do we ask for nothing in return? Not a dollar. Not a "like." Not a good review. Nothing. At what point do we give without reciprocity? Can this also be a part of a thriving business model?
In some recent posts, I talk a lot about getting curious about our assumptions of what’s possible. As entrepreneurs, we can get stuck in survival loops. There is a consistent pressure to survive that reinforces habits, serving short-term goals vs long-term purpose-driven outcomes. Without realizing it, consistent short-term practices compound into deeply embedded long-term beliefs: it can’t change; therefore, it won’t change.
I believe we can be conscious and strategic around our thinking and habits. We can start small, and over time, create something meaningful…but we have to be intentional.
When I was a senior executive for a (now) public coffee company, we required every franchisee to contribute 1% of their gross revenue back into the community. In such a high-margin business like coffee, most franchises could give a considerable percentage of their revenue back - as can most companies. But, without a push, many don’t. Instead, they would subscribe to the belief that they must save to grow - to survive - even when they were long past that need.
The purpose of requiring 1% was not for the good press or to get a tax deduction. The goal was to build a habitual foundation for what would later foster a culture of giving. That same for-profit coffee company would donate MILLIONS to ALS research, kids programs, and countless other local organizations. They created a rippling impact through the collective of franchises.
As leaders, our job is to think 3, 4, 5 steps ahead. We are constructing a foundation that our community of team members, customers, and partners will use to create real change in the world. Our job is to identify, endorse, and foster the proper habits that produce the results we want in the long-term.
At ZEAL, after years in a survival loop, we made a choice. After almost a decade in business with millions in revenue, we knew that to create change, we had to form new habits and adjust our business model.
This is why in 2020, we committed to give back 1% of all gross revenue to causes that help bridge the gap for underrepresented folks in tech. The math is simple and accountability is easy.
Our commitment forms two essential habits:
Why money and not just time?
Well, our time is not always the most valuable asset to give. Many organizations need unrestricted dollars to keep the lights on and provide critical services. They need to spend money on licenses, tuitions, supplies, facilities, personnel,... and many other things we can't provide. Now, that's not to say our time isn't valuable - it is. But, we can't assume it's the most useful.
We’re committed to investing in the habits that endorse our values at ZEAL. We also know that in doing so, our business, our teams, our clients and community all thrive. We don’t have to subscribe to scarcity only as business leaders, and neither should you.