How the Give Back Program Changed My Organization


BY:  Mark Laufer, CEO of Laufer Group International

Back in November, 2010, I was pondering how to unify three different concepts.  These were:  triading, giving back to the world, and creating cultural movement within an organization from stage two/three to stage four.  More specifically, I have a company of approximately 140 individuals who are in various stages of tribal development.  There are many stage two’s, many stage three’s, and a management team who has been devoted to moving everyone up to a stage four environment.  As CEO, that responsibility falls first and foremost with me.

Unlike so many companies, 2010 was a banner year for Laufer Group International.  We had embarked on a major cultural shift inspired by Tribal Leadership.  We had outgrown our old, “charismatic leader” model and had nothing to replace it with.  The organization had grown, but it had grown into silo’d units some of whom embraced stage two, some stage three.

I had decided that the world was hurting, and we weren’t, and wanted to do some good old fashioned charity.  But charity with a twist.  I decided to get our whole group involved, and see how they would react.  I announced to the company that we would donate $500 per employee (approximately $70k total), but that the charities would be chosen by the employee’s themselves.  We randomly created committee’s (triads) of three (some had more) who would meet and discuss their preferences.

There was some initial skepticism – as in “why don’t they take care of us first.”  Some grumbling as in “can’t they increase my bonus.”  But for the most part, people were blown away by the gesture.  Yet the magic didn’t start happening until the triads started meeting.

The  triads were chosen from a lottery.  People from different departments and floors were all of a sudden sitting in a small group sharing value stories!  Deciding which charities to support is a very personal choice.  Each group had the ability to donate any or all of their combined amounts in any way the group desired.  Further, we allowed each committee to pair or join with other committee’s to combine or divide their allocations in any way they felt was best.

People started sharing stories.  The niece who had Prader Willi syndrome, a rare developmental disorder.  Another’s love of animals.  Someone else who had volunteered to serve dinners to homeless people – and no one ever knew.  And even some who never cared, and started thinking about why they never cared.

Before we knew it, there was honor being built in relationships that previously were lacking trust.  Communication and empathy where none existed.  And most importantly, discussions about values.  Here is one brief exchange from a committee where an individual wanted to give to a cultural cause, but felt inhibited because so many were giving to medical causes:

The world is filled with horrible things.  Horrible diseases, horrible poverty (I just got back from China where I see lots of it), horrible everything.

We have to address this human suffering.  As a cancer survivor myself, I know how important medical research is.  But there is another side to human nature – the part that makes us uniquely human.  Art.  Music.  Literature.  When I was in Italy last June, I was amazed at the beauty produced in the 1600’s – a time of incredible poverty.  What we remember today, what we are today, is the result of what was produced on the artistic side.

Today – all charities are suffering.  But the suffering extends to the arts.  So when Natalya asked me who I would like to give to – I said something cultural.  Because it’s my way of recognizing that humans are not just food, medicine, alone.  We are human because of something else – because we create.  And the institutions that foster this creativity are suffering terribly.  But I feel guilty giving to the arts instead of to save people.

Here is the answer:

Welcome back and I hope your visit to China was very productive.I think that we do not have to choose and can donate to who ever we feel is suits us best.After our group meeting we realized that some of us have similar wishes and we combined our donations.It would be nice to donate to Public Television or Lincoln Center so they can continue their wonderful work in introducing art and culture to our society.

Please do it, it will be great for our group to represent ALL aspects of life.

The whole Give-back program was an incredibly positive and fulfilling experience for everyone.  It allowed me to do good, give back to the world, resonate with the core values of the organization and me personally, and bring people together in the process.  The donations went out in early December, and almost every day a letter or phone call comes from the recipients’.  They appreciate the contribution, but they are blown away at the process.  They recognize the unique manner in which these contributions were decided.

What an experience!


You can connect with Mark Laufer on LinkedIn

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