Culture corner: The importance of corporate giving

Each month, we interview a Richter partner to gain insight into how our leadership finds balance and focus in a demanding job, and what non-technical skills contribute to career success.

This month, it’s all about community. Community giving is a central value at Richter; it’s something we focus on through the Richter Charitable Foundation, the Richter Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship program, and of course, our annual Community Day. In this interview, Partner Mitch Silverstein explains why this value is so important.

Why is getting involved in the community and giving back necessary?

Mitch Silverstein (MS): It takes a community to build anything. We are not the sole architects of our own success and we don’t operate in a vacuum. No one person has the ability, the knowledge or the tools necessary to build anything completely on his or her own; the community is an integral component for every individual or company’s success. If you recognize that, you have a responsibility to give back to the community that enables you to be successful. And this goes beyond a community of just clients in business, it includes the greater community in general.

“When it comes to giving back to the community, it’s not about ROI.”

What do you think makes Richter want to give back to its community?

MS: Richter uniquely realizes that our success isn’t just due to our own capabilities – the community at large is a major contributor. Since our humble beginnings, 90 years ago, the founders of the firm knew this and made giving back to the community a part of Richter’s DNA. As a service firm that works very differently with our clients, we drill a lot deeper into how they think, how they feel and how they contribute to the community, versus simply how their businesses make money. Community giving is relevant to a firm like Richter because it is our culture and we strive to work with entrepreneurs and their families who share these values. The people who work at Richter today are also quality people. Collectively, they recognize that giving – without expectation or conditions, is necessary – even if you don’t get anything in return. It’s the legacy we want to continue to promote. When it comes to giving back to the community, it’s not about ROI.

Do you think being involved in community programming and volunteering is more or less important today versus when you first started your career?

MS: I think it is much more important today; the pressures of society and the way our world has evolved is very challenging – there’s a lot of negativity out there. If more people were involved in charitable giving, not just through donating money, but through giving more of themselves and their time, if more people were involved, the world would be a much better place.

Companies that focused on this when I began my career were ahead of their time – and although it may not be an intrinsic part of every company’s culture, it seems more prevalent now. The companies that were early adopters in focusing on giving back were actually the ones that truly believed in their actions and really knew what they were doing.

What benefits have you personally received from volunteering?

MS: The benefits of giving are obvious to the receiver, but the benefits to the giver, in my opinion, can significantly exceed those of the receiver. Some people may not always be altruistic in their giving – sometimes there may be an agenda. Sometimes people volunteer because it makes them feel good – but I don’t think that there is anything wrong with feeling good about volunteering. As long as people aren’t volunteering for the sole purposes of gaining glory or admiration, I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with feeling like you have benefitted personally. There is a positive benefit for both parties and I think that is a win-win situation.
What I admire about my colleagues at Richter, is that many do their volunteering altruistically and without the need for any recognition, which is the highest form of charity.

Has volunteering helped you develop business skills?

MS: People can get so caught up in business and their everyday lives that they don’t feel that they have time to give. I believe that this situation limits their abilities to be more successful.

Volunteering has absolutely contributed to developing my business skills. All the non-profit/charitable organizations that I am involved with have a number of volunteers, and many of them do not necessarily have a business background, or are currently in the business world. Consequently, things move at a somewhat slower pace at the charities than in our traditional business environment and that has forced me to focus on being:

  • more patient
  • more diplomatic
  • more inclusive
  • a better listener
  • committed to investing time in developing deeper relationships

It has also given me an appreciation for the constant financial challenges that the non-profit / charity world faces and has made me more empathetic towards those challenges. This has also helped me when dealing with challenging situations in my business life, particularly in assisting clients when they get into financial or other difficulties.

What are your thoughts on being honoured or recognized for your charitable work? Should you decline those opportunities?

MS: Sometimes the charitable organization needs or requests to highlight you as a significant volunteer or donor to promote their cause further. If others see the recognition being given or attention on that cause, it can motivate them into getting involved or make a financial contribution. Typically, even those that don’t necessarily want to be honoured in a public way understand that their recognition could convince others to donate as well.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

MS: “People buy from people they like. People like people they know. People know people they have a relationship with,” so if you want to be successful in business, invest in relationships and invest in your community.

Read more articles in the Culture Corner series: