God Bless Us, One and All

Last Updated Dec 10, 2009 3:53 AM EST

Christmas is the time for charity, to purge our guilt about excess spending, eating and drinking. Charity in the office starts with the best and worst of motives, and ends with the best and worst of outcomes. Here are three of the worst offenders:

1) We are not sending Christmas cards this year, instead we are making a donation to charity. If the firm wants to save money for charity, how about cutting back the CEO's bonus, or going tourist class instead of business class on one flight, or ditching the free cappuccinos and biscuits for a week? Why cut Christmas cards? So the firm can appear smug and virtuous while in practice being mean.

2) Will you sponsor my holiday (sorry -- charity expedition/challenge) to the Great Wall or Kilimanjaro or to the beach hut bar in Spain? This is social black mail. I do not want to sponsor someone's holiday. If they want to go on holiday, go. If they want to donate to charity, donate.

3) We are a socially responsible firm, which means:

  • We donate to the opera so our board can go to the opera
  • We give money to Africa so we feel less guilty about ripping up their rain forests. And our money helps keep dictators in power and fuels an unsustainable population boom. In Timbuktu I saw all the NGOs whirling around in outsized 4x4 vehicles and living in plush compounds with servants. Do you really know where your money goes?
To quote that great philosopher, Sarah Palin, much CSR (corporate social responsibility) is like putting lipstick on a pig. Arms firms, polluters and lousy banks hope that they can buy their way to respectability. If firms want to make a difference then all they have to do is offer good products and services at a good price.

As individuals, we need to know what our donations will really do. John Bird, founder of the Big Issue (a charity for the homeless based around selling a magazine on the street) observed that giving money to beggars cements their feet to the street. They need help, not more money for another drugs hit. I have made my choices: over the last ten years I have worked without pay to set up four national charities. We can do these things because they are right, or because it is Christmas. Best of all, we can do them because they are fun. But, not for personal gain, either as individuals or as businesses.

(Pic: eperales cc2.0)

  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership