Is The Way We Think About Personal Giving Dead Wrong?

csr2A few years ago, I got to see Dan Pallota (currently trending for Ted Talk fame ) in Vancouver. He was on tour promoting his book, Uncharitable, at the time; the Canadian non-profit sector was facing the possibility of a government sponsored bill capping salaries at $250,000. His message: charities and businesses are “expected to play by two different rules books” – and it’s holding them back.

Pallota’s Ted Talk, The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong, continues the conversation. Businesses can spend money to make money, and they can invest in attracting top talent through ever-increasing salaries. Nonprofits, on the other hand, are supposed to raise money and make an impact, without ever investing in marketing, recruitment and the like. Pallota’s asking, what if we removed those operational constraints on charities; what would it do for their ability to “do good?”

So, here’s what I’m wondering: can this same idea be applied to companies and individuals? Are businesses and the people they employ playing by two different rule books as well?

With the growing rise of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices – a recent study shows that 60% of Americans think buying goods from socially responsible companies is important – we’re making our expectations of businesses clear. The idea of ‘business for business’ is quickly out-dating itself. We’re using the strength of our purchase-power to send a new message: we want to buy from socially responsible companies that give back to their communities, respect people and protect the environment. And it’s pushing companies to change.

But at the individual level, personal giving and volunteerism (unlike corporate giving, which is heavily reported and boasted), is still considered just that: personal and private.

Unless you’re participating in a run or growing a mustache, we don’t say too much about it.

And, while we generally include some kind of “volunteer” section on our resume, it often looks and reads like an afterthought. The roles aren’t fleshed out with the same care we list past jobs– where are the metrics and results?

Will the expectation of “socially responsible” behaviours in companies ever trickle down to the individual level? Will leaders and managers start to say: “I want to work with/hire a socially responsible individual” – just as a company’s commitment to rainforest preservation might affect whether or not you buy a coffee. And how good is good enough? Is that for someone else to say?

Should our own commitments to “social responsibility” be a private matter or is the way we’ve been thinking about personal giving dead wrong too?

A local campaign, One Year One Percent, seems to be asking the same kind of questions. In partnership with Chimp, a Vancouver-based online giving platform, they’re asking individuals to commit to giving one percent of their annual salary to charity per year. Founder Sarah Shandl says, “there’s no alternative motive… [we’re] just trying to get people to think a little bit more about how they currently give to charity and how they might want to change that and have a bit more structure to it.”

Sounds a lot like CSR.

So I’m asking: when do we start talking about personal social responsibility the way we talk about corporate social responsibility – in a methodical, accountable way? And what if, one day, your volunteer experience or giving history contributed to whether or not you got the job?

Will companies ever start putting their “hiring-power” around socially responsible individuals? Should nonprofits be allowed to operate freely, using proven business practices, to achieve their impact? Or is that just crazy?