What charities can teach your business about passion and purpose

Breast Cancer walk

Supporting a cause you believe in feels good. Photo cc MoHotta18 via Flickr

Ten years ago, in the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, I founded a voluntary, not-for-profit community group. Our purpose was to raise funds for small, forgotten grass-roots charities that had been helping women and children affected by poverty and the sudden crisis.

For as long as traumatic events like the tsunami were fresh in people’s minds, our fundraising was quite easy as so many people felt an urgent and passionate need to help. However it didn’t take long for the Tsunami to be forgotten, making our fundraising efforts noticeably harder — our previous supporters seemed to be lacking the necessary emotional connection with our chosen causes!

Our experience was by no means unique; small charities everywhere were having to work much harder to get practical and financial support from the right people. And this development seemed to be mirrored in the business world as the economic downturn took hold: some micro-business owners struggled to make ends meet and growing pessimism led to many a small business closing.

So, what if you managed to survive up to now but have literally just experienced a serious setback? Seeing the growing confidence in the slowly improving economy may be encouraging for some but others may not find it enough to reignite their passion and help them to stay positive.

However, even if you haven’t suffered a setback, sometimes the mundane day-to-day routine alone can make us feel detached from the meaning of it all. Particularly when each week feels like the previous one; perhaps you are losing interest or are simply too busy to stop?

What’s your purpose?

All these are good reasons to take a lesson from the charitable sector by realigning you and your small business with a strong purpose! And sometimes all you need to do is to remind yourself how the people or businesses you are helping are benefiting from what you do.

But if that’s hard, why not write the answers to the following probing questions on a piece of paper?

Try to capture whatever springs to mind, without judging or censoring what you may be learning about yourself.

  • Why do I run my own business? (Please write down as many different reasons as you can)
  • Why do I offer my particular service or product(s)?
  • Which problems do I solve with my service or product(s)?
  • What makes me feel most passionate and engaged about the work I do?
  • What long-term impact do I want to achieve with my work?
  • How do I wish to be remembered?

Can you spot any common themes as you read your answers? They may highlight ideas and beliefs you feel strongly about and these may point to values, such as freedom, independence, community, making a difference, creativity, learning, leading, quality, happiness, integrity… or whatever is most important to you.

Motivating colleagues and customers

In my case, our small community group eventually realized that our purpose wasn’t just to help women and children affected by the Tsunami. We therefore tweaked our fundraising strategy to include small local causes that help women and children much closer to home. This reinspired our guests and volunteers, as it was much easier for them to see the impact of their involvement.

So let your associates, colleagues and customers understand your ‘WHY’ and how you care about a project that makes someone’s life or business easier or better. You will not only carry out your day-to-day work with a more passionate and enthusiastic approach, you will engage differently with potential customers too — and they with you!

Better still, perhaps, a strong ‘WHY’ will help you to stay more fired up through any ups and downs in your business and can prevent you from quitting when the going gets tough.

So why not stake a claim on purpose and passion as key ingredients for your business? Don’t just leave it to the charitable sector!

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