Commentary: What we all get when we all give

There is a philanthropic gene in Americans. We tend to give, almost instinctively, of our time, money, education and experience. And not just to people we know.

Historically, when there is a catastrophe or tragedy anywhere else in the world, the U.S. is usually the first to respond with aid. There are also countless foundations, charities, trusts, religious missions, and non-governmental organizations that exist in our country simply to assist the less fortunate.

The giving initiative in the business world has become widely known as corporate social responsibility, and the notion is that brands will do well if they also do good.

In our city, businesses are deeply engaged in giving back to the community. A recent report by philanthropic advisers Rodman and Associates of Austin indicated that 95 percent of all companies here are involved in charitable giving and that 87 percent made an annual monetary donation. Rodman surveyed 106 businesses and discovered that in 2014 they also donated 21,251 40-hour workweeks of volunteer time, which totals 408 years of free public service.

I believe we all have an impulse to give and help. My family lived in a mobile home not far from the Rio Grande. When I was born in 1975, the Rio Grande Valley was referred to by national news publications as the “Third World of America.” There was great poverty, but our family had the basics, though not abundance; dad was a math teacher and mother stayed home to raise her three children.

One of our traditions for giving came at the end of every year. All the clothes we had outgrown, the shoes we had worn down, or the inexpensive toys that no longer held our fascination were put into boxes and bags, and we drove to the ferry across the Rio Grande at the little town of Los Ebanos. Just south of the ferry landing was my mother’s hometown of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, which is where we delivered our donations to her childhood church, Iglesia Metodista El Buen Pastor. I learned during those visits that our lower-middle-class lives just north of the border were considered almost extravagant to people not that many miles away on the other side.

My conviction as an entrepreneur has been that we need an improved infrastructure for individuals to exercise their charitable inclinations, which will have a profound impact on philanthropy. The idea that giving is a byproduct of great financial wealth is outdated; technology can enable all of us to be everyday philanthropists.

I founded my company Encast to empower charitable giving by individuals through their everyday lives. Companies like YourCause, Benevity and Causecast also share our belief that more charitable causes should partake of American generosity. In fact, less than 10 percent of nonprofits that file tax returns receive more than 90 percent of annual total charitable contributions, which totaled more than $433 billion in 2015, according to IRS data. The Giving USA Foundation had a lower-but-still-sizable figure for charitable giving that year: $373 billion.

And altruism is not the only reason for a business to give back.

A May report by Gallup indicated millennial workers are not staying on their jobs and that turnover costs the economy $30 billion dollars annually. The study concludes that millennials “just want a job that feels worthwhile and they will keep looking until they find it.”

Workplace giving can provide that meaning for employees, — and it can improve return on investment. Corporate social responsibility programs have proven to increase productivity by 13 percent, which is like a company getting 6.5 weeks of additional work from an employee, with revenue growing as much as 20 percent. A business can attract and retain top talent when it has a socially engaged work culture involved in giving.

None of this even addresses increased customer conversions and brand loyalty resulting from a robust corporate social responsibility program. However, our goal at Encast is to help everyone live a giving lifestyle. There is no way to estimate the sweeping positive impact that will occur when we all discover that giving is easy and affordable, no matter how much we earn.

I know it’s one of the happiest lessons I have ever learned.

Ramirez is the CEO, chairman, and founder of Encast, an Austin technology startup innovating philanthropy through its Giving as a Service platform.

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