6 Philanthropic Entrepreneurs Inspiring the Rest of Us

Not only is it good for you (and the world) to give back, it’s good for business, too. “Small business is inherently part of a community; that is your customer base, so it is very important for small businesses to be involved in the community’s welfare,” says business philanthropy expert Theresa Roemer. “Philanthropy shows that a business cares about the communities it serves.”

For some entrepreneurs, giving back is about more than buying a sponsorship at a charity golf tournament or donating unwanted office furniture. These business owners go above and beyond, making philanthropy an important part of their business identity. Get inspired by six women who are giving back big.

This Will Warm Your Cold, Cold Heart

This Will Warm Your Cold, Cold Heart

Not only is it good for you (and the world) to give back, it’s good for business, too. “Small business is inherently part of a community; that is your customer base, so it is very important for small businesses to be involved in the community’s welfare,” says business philanthropy expert Theresa Roemer. “Philanthropy shows that a business cares about the communities it serves.”

For some entrepreneurs, giving back is about more than buying a sponsorship at a charity golf tournament or donating unwanted office furniture. These business owners go above and beyond, making philanthropy an important part of their business identity. Get inspired by six women who are giving back big.

Culinary Arts Program for At-Risk Youth

Culinary Arts Program for At-Risk Youth

Who: Lesley Cohn is co-founder of Cohn Restaurant Group, which owns and operates 25 restaurants in the San Diego area and Maui.

What: In 1996, Cohn and her husband and co-founder launched the Garfield High School Foundation and culinary arts program for at-risk youth, which features a $2 million state-of-the-art kitchen, serving line, and lecture center. Through the program, students who are considered high risk for dropping out learn culinary skills to prepare them for future careers in the restaurant industry. The program has graduated 2,000 at-risk youth to date.

The foundation’s annual Thanksgiving fundraising luncheon, run by the students under the guidance of Cohn Restaurant Group’s chefs, has raised more than $300,000 over the past 16 years to benefit the program, and staff members have volunteered more than 4,000 hours.

Why: “This particular group at Garfield is among the most vulnerable and underserved in our community,” Cohn says. “With the Culinary Arts program, we are answering the need of those who do not necessarily choose college as a path but can be a productive member of the working community.” Some of the students from the Garfield High School Foundation have landed jobs at restaurants in the Cohn Restaurant Group and moved up the ladder.

Fashion Styling Event for Cancer Patients and Survivors

Fashion Styling Event for Cancer Patients and Survivors

Who: Mitali Saxena founded Fashom, a social network and mobile application that promotes everyday, self-expressed, and unedited fashion by real people.

What: In October, Fashom partnered with a dozen local fashion and lifestyle bloggers to host a “Be Real” fashion styling event to pamper local cancer patients and survivors. Each hour, a fashion blogger teamed up with a cancer patient or survivor and treated her like royalty, decking her out in the latest fall fashions and makeup applications, and capping it off with a walk down the runway captured by professional photographers. The event was part of the company’s month-long Be Real campaign, which raised money for the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Why: “Fashom is focused on real beauty and everyday fashion,” Saxena says. “You don’t have to be a size zero or have perfect skin and hair to be on Fashom. We wanted an event to showcase this and give back to cancer patients and survivors, putting smiles on their faces.” After the success of the first event, Saxena hopes to host it every year with the support of the local community.

“Queen for a Day” Experiences for Girls Hospitalized With Cancer

“Queen for a Day” Experiences for Girls Hospitalized With Cancer

Who: Carrie Mantha founded the Indira Collection, which offers attainable, customized, couture fashions for special occasions.

What: For several years, Mantha has worked with the For A Day Foundation (FADF), creating “Queen for a Day” experiences for little girls who are hospitalized with cancer. Mantha and other volunteers provide manicures, makeovers, dresses, and tiaras for the girls on their magical day. Last year, one of her employees began volunteering too and now almost everyone in the company is involved with FADF in some capacity.

Why: “I never expected my work with FADF to pay off for the company, but it turns out that sharing such unforgettably positive and humbling experiences is a pretty awesome way for the entire team to bond,” Mantha says. “The Queen for a Day events also help drive home to everyone the power of making women look and feel uniquely beautiful. This has the effect of reenergizing our team after every event.” This month, Indira Collection will make its involvement with FADF official, with a portion of all proceeds going directly to the charity, a social media campaign promoting the organization’s work, and a series of fashion shoots for the little queens.

“Our work with FADF kind of seeped into our DNA and became an important part of who we are,” Mantha says. “That’s given the company so much soul that I really can’t imagine building the company without it.”

Sweaters4Troops

Sweaters4Troops

Who: In 2008, Anne Marie Blackman began selling upcycled retro Christmas sweaters on eBay, in response to the trend of “ugly Christmas sweater” parties. Her company eventually outgrew eBay and in 2011, she launched MyUglyChristmasSweater.com, an ecommerce business that sells upcycled and brand-new Christmas sweaters.

What: In 2009, My Ugly Christmas Sweater received an order for three sweaters from a U.S. servicewoman based in Afghanistan. Blackman and her staff included an additional 20 sweaters at no charge, which the customer gave to others on her base. The servicewoman sent the company a photo and a letter of appreciation, and a service project was born.

Blackman established a charitable campaign called Sweaters4Troops, which donates holiday sweaters to U.S. servicemen and women who are serving away from home during the holidays. Donations range from 10 to 100 sweaters per group. “In 2013, we donated 100 sweaters to one base in Southeast Asia, and they had an on-base holiday-themed 5K race, as well as a holiday party with a photo booth,” Blackman says. “The sweaters were available for use in their photo booth, where they took digital holiday photos to send to family back home.” The company has pledged to donate 500 sweaters for the 2014 season.

Why: “The bottom line is that I love this program and feel great about being able to send the sweaters to the servicemen and women who are away from family and friends during the holidays,” Blackman says.

Supporting Financial Independence for Women

Supporting Financial Independence for Women

Who: Shrankhla Holecek left a consulting career to create Uma, a line of organic essential oils that are grown and formulated at her family farms in India.

What: Holecek believes financial independence is a major driver of equality as well as emancipation for women, especially in India. In addition to employing Indian women and providing good wages, equal opportunities, and ongoing financial education, she wanted the company to also help create the necessary support systems that can help those women get to work: free day care, free clinics, and academic sponsorships for their children.

Uma earmarks 25 percent of the company’s profits to those community efforts and sponsors 25 academic scholarships a year for children of employees to pursue higher education. In addition, Uma runs the only medical clinic in the community in which it is based, entirely free of cost.

Why: “While I was passionate about natural and holistic solutions and bringing them to consumers in an educational fashion, it was equally important to me to further the cause of gender equality and women’s emancipation in India, where atrocities against women are too often the norm,” Holecek says. “We couldn’t build a very dedicated, committed workforce without creating an environment of support infrastructure and trust where our team believed that we were invested in their welfare. India can be a difficult place to live and work in, and creating the right incentive structure for employees takes much more than just pay. Having built a reputation for systematically providing that support system allows us to attract and retain the best talent.”

Crisis Hotline for Women and Children Affected by Domestic Violence

Crisis Hotline for Women and Children Affected by Domestic Violence

Who: Denise Borkowski, a former public school teacher, and her husband own the DreamMaker Bath and Kitchen remodeling franchise in suburban Chicago.

What: Eleven years ago, Borkowski began volunteering at a crisis hotline for women and children affected by domestic violence. She takes calls from people who are looking for a safe place to receive counseling and sometimes shelter. Once a woman is approved for shelter, Borkowski shepherds them through the process of joining the shelter household, providing a tour of the premises, helping them settle into their bedroom space, and familiarizing them with the services available.

Recently, using her remodeling expertise from the business, Borkowski helped to remodel the local women’s crisis shelter, including providing replacement cabinetry for the accessible bedroom at cost.

Why: “Not a week goes by that I don’t realize the incredible complexity of the domestic violence issue, the resilience of these women under terribly trying circumstances, the remarkable courage they exhibit, and how blessed I am to be able to provide a few hours of support to such a worthy cause,” Borkowski says.

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