With all the natural disasters and community tragedies we see in the news, it can be hard to know how to respond or help. Eight entrepreneurs share examples of how they support their communities and how that involvement impacted their business. At the end, they give their tips to help you take action too.
Adopt a Classroom
“When Harvey hit, my company (located in Houston) adopted classrooms in low-income areas that were affected by the storm," says Bonnie Treece, founder of The Brain Domain, which offers tutoring, test prep, and college counseling.
“We bought school supplies for classrooms in an elementary school in the 5th ward where about 70% of the students were displaced. It felt good and we ended up getting tons of new clients the next week, but we didn't advertise what we did at all. I think it's about good karma."
Give, Train, and ListenBrad Shaw, president and CEO of Dallas Web Design Inc., an online marketing firm, says, “As an entrepreneur and businessman, I helped others by doing the following: Donate money and goods to at least 25 families that are affected; train for first-aid and emergency response; [and] take time to talk with the victims. Sometimes, all they need is an ear to listen."
Sharing Time and Spreading Awareness
“I support my community by volunteering locally, and I use social media to spread awareness when it comes to national or global disasters. I also donate to relief efforts," says Ian Young, virtual assistant, and co-organizer of RVA Social Entrepreneurs, a group of entrepreneurs committed to positive social change.
“For local disasters, it's a way to not only do my part in the community but it's also a good way to network with the organization that you're volunteering in."
30 Day Love Challenge
Nachi Salasini, a social impactor's personal development coach and speaker at Live Like YOU, Now!, wanted to create something that “would bring more love to the people hurting over all the pain that's been going around."
“I decided to run a free 30 Day Love Challenge," she says, “to bring more love into people's worlds. Bring a little more hope and a lot more light during the dark times."
“The community appreciated and engaged with the Love Challenge because the need was there and it was a way to start their day on a more positive note. Also, through the challenge, many reconnected with old friends, felt happier, and more hopeful for better days - I know I did."
Mindfulness Meditation Albums
Jaime Pfeffer, a meditation teacher, entrepreneur, and success coach, says, “I responded to both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma by offering my mindfulness albums free to people who were struggling with the emotional impacts these natural disasters can cause." Pfeffer, who was personally affected by Irma, says she knows “how the build-up to a natural disaster and the aftermath can cause huge amounts of stress, anxiety, doubt, and panic."
“I don't know if I've had direct sales as a result of these efforts but that isn't why I did it in the first place - it's really about helping out where I can."
Helping the Helpers
“This has been such an emotional roller coaster," says Jenny Moore, founder and president of BlingGuard LLC. Despite feeling overwhelmed, when Moore saw a group of rescue vehicles, she spent time “giving hugs and talking to first responders [to thank them...] My spirits lifted, my kids' spirits lifted. I'd like to think we lifted the spirits of all the guys we met, hugged, and spoke with."
That led to supporting first responders with meals and organizing a laundry drive (where volunteers washed first responders' clothes). Later, she helped others affected by the storm by sourcing bedding, organizing delivery of supplies, and coordinating an event to support teachers in the affected area.
“I did all these things to truly help out. I saw myself as a vessel who was simply able to use my network, my ability to solve problems, and my drive to help people. It was so good to do good. That said, my business has exploded! I met so many people, [...] and my exposure in the community as a “do-er" brought me to a different level. I have been contacted for several speaking engagements and business opportunities, and doors continue to open."
Noelle Rose Andressen, artistic director and dancer of Rubans Rouges Dance, a dance company with an emphasis on community outreach programs, says, “We perform dance concerts through our company's outreach to fundraise for national disasters. If it's a local disaster, we provide hands-on assistance with blankets, food, [...] fundraising, and volunteering."
Andressen has seen multiple benefits. “Our employees, administrative and [...] dancers, get a sense of purpose and are pleased and proud to help their fellow humans. It creates the positive brand perception to the community as well. Sometimes, generally speaking, entertainers can be seen as selfish or out of touch; we wanted to change that preconceived notion. We become part of their extended family and not only seen as entertainers, but entertainers who care and give charitably in times of trouble."
“Tax-wise, it is listed as an 'in-kind' service or donation and has always been beneficial for us as well. We have never experienced any drawbacks or negativity from being charitable. A positive karmic deed always returns ten-fold."
Elevate the Issue
“As leaders, we have the responsibility to lead the way by example and first thing is to elevate the issue inside of our companies," says Ximena Hartsock, co-founder, and president of Phone2Action, which helps businesses and citizens take a stand on the issues that matter to them.
After natural disasters and other tragedies, Hartsock uses Slack to communicate with her team to raise awareness and collect ideas. “Our employees immediately began brainstorming ways we could help, including posting information on our personal and corporate social media accounts regarding how people could locate loved ones and donate blood."Her company also partners with other organizations and offers their technology to schools for free. She says, “Helping others is part of our culture. In fact, one of our employee benefits is three additional days of paid time off (PTO) for people to help on natural disasters or recovery issues of the person's choice. [...] Employee satisfaction and brand alignment increases when you show your employees that the bottom line is not the money."
[Your story here]
The interviewees recommend serving in ways that make sense given your experience, talents, and interests. “Whatever it is that you do best," says Andressen, “give graciously. We all have something to give. Find what you're passionate about and be real when helping others."
Salasini suggests that “entrepreneurs reconnect with their 'why,'" or their motivation, because “the best way they can serve their community will come from [that]."
“If it makes sense for your business or product," Hartsock says, “start with your product and offer it for free to help the efforts already in motion."She also reminds us that we don't need to come up with ideas by ourselves. “Crowdsource ideas for how you can help from within your [company]. An employee may already be helping via their own community organization which you could partner with, or they may have a great idea of how your company could help."
And every local area has a place you can help, says Young. “Look for organizations who are nearby. The biggest one is HandsOn; there is a chapter in almost every major city in the country."“Remember," says Salasini, “'It's not about you, but it starts with you.'" When talking about her Love Challenge, she says, “I made it as easy, fun, and valuable [as I could] for the people I serve. I made it about adding more light and love to their world."
As these entrepreneurs have said, there are many benefits to supporting your community. Whether you do it for the tax write-offs, team unity, brand exposure, or the knowledge that you did a good deed, let these examples and tips inspire you to help your community in a way that feels the most natural to you.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.