Getting More Than They Give

Five business leaders share their philanthropic passions and experiences in charitable giving.

March 11 2013 by Patricia O’Connell


The young vet Bardis met that day became Hire Heroes USA’s first employee. The organization now has 18 full-time employees, two part-time employees and has placed vets in 800 jobs, thanks to MedAsset’s network of relationships around the country. “Our mission is very clear,” says Bardis. “Returning American war heros deserve the first places in the job line to participate in the American dream they protected. They deserve all of our respect but deserve and need their dignity like all of us do.”

All of the CEOs interviewed cited other unexpected pluses that came from their philanthropic work. “I became more aware of and sensitive to the arts overall,” says Nardelli of his work with SCAD. “Yes, I was interested in the business application, but I’ve been able to appreciate the arts in a much broader way.”

Roell says not being the expert has taught him to listen more, a skill he carries back with him to his own organization. “I do a better job managing my own organization as a result,” he says. For his part, Bardis says. “It gives me humility.”

That is a key point, according to Goldsmith, who points out that CEOs tend to live “in a bubble, a surreal world.” He recalls one client who hadn’t flown commercial since September, 2001 and was thus baffled by security procedures that called for him take off his shoes.

“This kind of work gives them perspective and helps to teach them how the other half lives,” he says. Patience, compassion and gratitude are among the most commonly cited fringe benefits of philanthropic work.

At the same time, warns Goldsmith, the effort can also bring frustration. “In the charity world, the sense of need is infinite,” he points out. “Realistically, you are often only making a small dent in a very large problem. That can be challenging for people used to solving problems.” CEOs are, after all, results-oriented; constantly looking for return on investment and conditioned to set, meet, and ideally exceed goals.

Overall, however, most people who undertake philanthropic endeavors find their efforts rewarding and their outcome meaningful—and CEOs are no different. Their gifts—of money, time, expertise and example—keep on giving, both to themselves and to others.

8 Steps to Finding a Philanthropic Fit

So you want to give your time, expertise or money—or more likely, a combination—to a worthy cause? Here are some tips on getting started from Paul J. Massey Jr., CEO of New York City-based investment property brokerage Massey Knakal and chairman of the board of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

  1. Decide what you are passionate about. You will give your best if your commitment comes from a desire to make a difference, not a sense of obligation.
  2. Identify and research organizations that serve the causes about which you care. Reach out to board members and investigate charities through resources like Charitywatch.org and Charitynavigator.org.
  3. Look for red flags. These may include things like a reluctance to speak about succession planning and unexpected or ill-explained management or board departures. Also, check on financial strength and integrity by checking tax returns and compliance practices.
  4. Meet with senior management. “Culture fit is just as important in the nonprofit world as it is anywhere else,” says Massey.
  5. Determine what skill sets you bring.
  6. Be prepared to give and raise money. If the organization isn’t overt about the financial expectations, ask.
  7. Think outside the board. Strong organizations have committees that are a mix of board members and non-board people.
  8. If you can’t find a fit, start your own. “Don’t assume all the good ideas and good causes are spoken for,” says MedAsset’s John Bardis, who founded Hire Heroes USA. “We had the right idea at the right time—a time when people were ready to think about returning veterans and how to help them.”