“Charity Participation – A Powerful, Yet Unknown, Career Booster”

“Don’t trust people whose God is green.”

– Hon. Herbert Tenzer, Former U.S. Congressman
And Trustee or Chairman of Several Charitable Organizations
[to Alan Sklover, then a law student]

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY*: Few people know it, but Bill Gates may owe 99% of his business success to charity participation. Here’s what happened:

Bill Gates grew up in a suburb of Seattle, Washington, where his father was an attorney and his mother was very active in the local chapter of The United Way charity. She was so active in that worthy cause that she was chosen to represent the Seattle area on the charity’s national Board of Directors. To attend national Board meetings, she sometimes traveled to Washington, D.C., where The United Way’s headquarters was located.

Fortunately for young Bill, also sitting on the national Board of Directors of The United Way at that time was the Chairman of IBM, then the world’s largest computer company. Mrs. Gates and the IBM Chairman became friends.

Not long afterward, young Bill Gates dropped out of college to pursue his dream of working with computers. He and a friend, Paul Allen, came up with a sort of digital code to make small computing devices operate, which they named Disc Operating System, or “DOS” for short. Problem was, no one had any use for DOS. Their dream, though, was to sell DOS to a computer company, and use the proceeds to build new computer coding.

No one was interested. No one.

To help young Bill, his mom asked her friend, the IBM Chairman, if he would be willing to speak with her son, and give him some business advice on what to do with his DOS coding software. Though the IBM chairman agreed to do so, months went on without a meeting. Finally, he invited Bill to a meeting. To Bill’s embarrassment, his mother came, too; she just wanted to make sure her son received the attention she felt he deserved. The meeting was cordial, the Chairman offered some advice, and also promised to have someone more technical than he was speak with young Bill.
In the course of several more meetings – most of which young Bill’s mother attended – IBM made a decision to license DOS for possible use in its new “personal computers.”
Though the purchase price would have been modest, licensing DOS turned out to be one of the biggest blunders in corporate history, because the new “IBM PC” was built around DOS, and therefore became dependent on it.

What started out as idle chatter at a charity Board meeting, ended up with Bill Gates being viewed as a genius, and billionaire. Billionaire: yes. Genius? Well, I’m sure his mom thinks so.

LESSON TO LEARN: To achieve career success, everyone wants to attend prestigious colleges and big-name grad schools. To achieve career success, everyone wants to immerse themselves in LinkedIn and Facebook. To achieve career success, everyone wants to attend high-level industry conferences, and rub elbows with the famous and powerful. For lots of reasons, to get ahead, it may be wiser to help the homeless, feed the sick, and assist the aged.

Seems counter-intuitive? Maybe so. But good reasons exist to believe, and experience confirms, that charity participation is a proven, yet unknown, powerful career advantage.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Let’s give serious thought to these sixteen points. And consider acting on them, to the benefit of your career, and the benefit of society, as well.

1. Let’s be frank: Hiring and promotion often depends most on who you know and how much they like you. No one will dislike you, or refuse to hire you, because you are Chairperson of your city’s Campaign to Eradicate Juvenile Diabetes. But if the Managing Partner of the big accounting firm you’re interviewing with has a 9-year-old daughter who is insulin-dependent, you just might get the job you want. Same thing goes for the Senior Vice President of Marketing whose son is autistic, and the Chairman of the Cable Company whose favorite executive passed away from Pancreatic Cancer.

2. Let’s be social: Charity participation is the original “social networking.” Though younger folks may prefer meeting people by pressing keyboard buttons, successful executives, managers and professionals get to where they are by hand-shaking and back-slapping. That’s why presidential candidates get out there, meet the public and “press the flesh”: people like person-to-person interaction. You’ll meet the highest executives in the fashion world – and plenty of the most famous models – at events sponsored by Fashion Fights AIDS.

3. Let’s be imaginative: Can you imagine any other risk-free chance to learn organizational politics? Working with other people on real problems is the best way to get experience, and experience is the only way to develop good judgment. Joining your local chapter of Big Brothers / Big Sisters can provide you with organizational, decision-making, team-building and other leadership opportunities that you could not have until you reach the higher ladders of career success. At 25 you can have opportunities to learn that you may not otherwise have until you were 55.

4. Let’s be thoughtful: Experienced Decision-makers think more of Thoughtfulness than they do Cleverness. Charity participation portrays a perception to others that, though you may have an awareness of the immediate issues of your daily life, more importantly, you also think on a broader level regarding how daily actions fit into the larger and long-term picture of the larger world around us – just the issues that senior executives must deal with at their level. CEO’s can no longer ignore issues of pollution near their factories, day care for their employees, or their employees who return from military service suffering from post-traumatic stress. Let them know you think like them, and they’ll want you to be on their team. Don’t forget for a moment that business is less a matter of numbers and more a matter of chemistry. USO could use your support.

5. Let’s be observant: Every leader is involved in charitable activities. Guess what – that’s part of how they got where they are. If you are serious about your career, you’ll “do as they do” until “you are one of them.” The Lupus Foundation awaits you. So does your local chapter of The American Heart Association.

6. Let’s be strategic: Every CEO has one or two favorite charitable causes. There’s nothing wrong with being smart. If it’s your dream to work for the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, do some internet research to find out what charities their CEO’s favor. And don’t forget: if the CEO favors Friends of Animals, you can bet that the CFO, the Senior Vice Presidents and the Divisional Managers will all likely attend fundraisers for Friends of Animals, too. What in the world are you waiting for . . . an invitation?

7. Let’s be self-promoting: Would it hurt if you were on the cover of this year’s annual report featuring a story of your company’s good deeds? How would it make your CEO feel to see your picture in your city’s major newspaper, being honored for your work on behalf of victims of Alzheimer’s Disease, especially if his mother has suffered from it for years? Consider volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association.

8. Let’s build your book of business: This is so often the exact way it’s done. Are you an investment advisor? A real estate broker? Perhaps a dentist, or a patent attorney? Looking to build your own “B.O.B.(book of business)?” Who isn’t? Participation a in charitable organization is the way people have done exactly that for years. Even if you signed a non-compete or non-solicit agreement with your last employer, this could be a way to effectively – and honestly – get around it. Consider assisting the Red Cross.

9. Let’s gain some perspective: Charity Participation provides a wider and deeper perspective on problems and problem solving. Time spent giving support to, or even fundraising for, paralyzed veterans, cancer-stricken children, or homeless families, broadens and strengthens your “bigger picture.” You’re guaranteed to come away from charity participation with a better understanding of the power of the human spirit, and its potential for perseverance. At the same time, you’ll probably quit complaining about the size of your office, and instead focus on what’s really important. The Leukemia Society could use your help.

10. Let’s be aggressive: Make a “positive” move toward your target decision-maker. You’ll never get a personal business meeting with your CEO, but you well may have a casual, fun, memorable encounter with him or her at a Walk-a-Thon. Pursuing a career should include thoughts and efforts intended to create and enhance personal chemistry with others who are in a position to help you. You’re more likely to achieve that by attending a Bowl-a-thon fundraiser for your church, synagogue, mosque or alma mater than anywhere else.

11. Let’s be adult: It’s what adults do. Simply put, giving to others is a part of the adult experience, and is a good part of what separates adults from children. The growth out of self-centeredness into caring for others is for many what separates the two major phases of life. Don’t forget; impressions count, and good impressions count a lot. How about the March of Dimes against Birth Defects?

12. Let’s be charitable: It’s no coincidence that so many believe in it. Simply said, there are many of us who believe that the purpose of life is a life of purpose. Whether it’s for good Karma, a dedication for Tirkun Olum (repair of the world), or in furtherance of the Golden Rule, giving to others of your time, energy and resources is a gift to yourself, as well. You may not feel that way now, but many others do, and you may some day, too. It’s just a matter of faith. Have you ever considered assisting Guide Dogs for the Blind?

13. Let’s be prudent: There’s no better investment of a modest amount of your time and energy. An hour every few weeks or two cannot yield a better return on investment, (or “ROI”) than participation in charitable endeavors. You many not end up a Bill Gates, but then again, maybe you will. You may have noticed that he has now decided to spend most of his time in charitable endeavors. Wonder why? Help disadvantaged kids get a college education, and perhaps you’ll understand.

14. Let’s be skillful: You may be able to learn or practice a new skill while volunteering at a charitable organization. If you want to pick up or practice a new skill, you may be able to do so at a charity. Ever thought of adding some public relations know-how to your skillset? How about learning “WordPress” software? While neither may be available to you at your place of employment, both may be available to you by participating in charitable organizations. There are many organizations still working feverishly to help those hurt by Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake.

15. Let’s be honest: Charity Participation on a resume is impressive. First impressions are lasting impressions. Charitable activities on a resume impress many people. And leadership positions in charitable organizations are doubly impressive. Being President of the Girls Clubs in your county shows people respect you, look up to you, and are comfortable giving you authority and responsibility. Sounds like someone we’d all like to hire.

16. Let’s feel – and portray – self-respect and self-confidence. Nothing sells like self-confidence. Knowing you are one of those who gives back in appreciation of your own numerous blessings, gives a glow of self-respect and self-confidence like nothing else. It just glows inside, and outside, too. An uplifting spirit uplifts us all. I can guarantee you that being on “the right side” will, like nothing else, get you on “the right team.” Consider the fine work done by Autism Speaks, and how you might support their efforts.

For these sixteen reasons and others, charitable participation is a potentially great advantage to any career. Doing good for others while you do well for yourself is the ultimate “win-win.” Give it a try.

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work, and in matters of your career. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and avoid risks at every point in your career. Knowing ways to resolve disputes when they arise is a distinct advantage in navigating workplace life. Knowing ways to avoid disputes is even more advantageous. Learning the “in’s and out’s” of doing so is what we are here for. Now it’s up to you.

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.

Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.

Sklover’s Working Wisdom™ and Sklover’s Negotiating for Yourself at Work™ are trademarked newsletter publications of Sklover & Donath, LLC, a law firm dedicated to the counsel and representation of executives in matters of their employment, compensation and severance. Nothing expressed in this material constitutes legal advice. Please note that our attorneys are admitted to practice in New York only. When assisting clients in other jurisdictions, we retain the assistance of local counsel and/or obtain permission of local courts to appear. Copying, use and/or reproduction of this material in any form or media without prior written permission is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. Sklover & Donath, LLC, 10 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, New York 10020 (212) 757-5000.

© 2011, Alan L. Sklover All Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Prohibited. Attorney Advertisement.