July 9, 2019
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How Colorado is nurturing a ‘give first’ mentality among its startups

Pledge 1% Colorado works with startups of all sizes that allocate company resources, like stock or revenue, to give back to local nonprofits.

Startups in Colorado are encouraged to join a community of philanthropy, with help from Pledge 1% Colorado. Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Decades ago, engineers graduating from the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus sought the advice of local leaders in an effort to help turn their lab-generated ideas into real businesses. Those mentors, whose advice and guidance were pivotal in the success of those initial companies, unknowingly played a broader role in defining a founding ideology (now a hashtag) for our community-centric startup ecosystem across Colorado: #GiveFirst.

It takes form in the regular coffee meetings occurring across the state between current and future entrepreneurs, free educational workshops, thought-provoking panels, meetups, and, more recently, millions of dollars being reinvested into non-profits across our great state. #GiveFirst as a guiding principle may not have roots in philanthropy, but the nonprofit I’m honored to run, Pledge 1% Colorado, was created as a natural evolution of that concept. We work with startups of all sizes who allocate company resources, like stock or revenue, to give back to local nonprofits.

Toward the end of last summer, I invited a friend and rising entrepreneur out for a beer to thank him for making a company commitment to giving back locally via Pledge 1% Colorado. As we settled into our seats and finished catching up, curiosity got the best of me. I prodded him for some thoughts on what needs in the community he and his company were considering supporting. Our next few sips of beer were interwoven with discussions of poverty, access to affordable healthcare, job creation, and even climate change. He thanked me for shedding light on the inequities within our community, but stopped short when it came time to respond to my inquiry.

Taking another sip, he sat back and compiled his thoughts. “While I don’t think I have a direct answer to your question today, what I can tell you is this: if we’re lucky enough to sell our business, or even go public in the next 6-8 years, one of the greatest benefits of that success will be to use our pledge to address a vital need in our community.”

In my two years since taking over this program, what that entrepreneur said that afternoon was part of a bigger trend I’ve noticed the business community embracing, something which I’m labeling “proactive philanthropy.” It’s an approach that founders tell me helps with hiring and retaining stellar employees, especially the 63 percent of Millennials who hope to work for great companies who do more than just make money. Consumers are also playing an active role by favoring products and companies that have a social mission or a direct return to the community (think Patagonia, Warby Parker, or Salesforce). Studies are showing that a commitment to social good is having positive impacts on brand reputation, and ultimately the bottom line for many businesses.

The 252 companies (and counting) that we work with at Pledge 1% Colorado have helped to create more than $10 million that has been granted back to the community, along with thousands of hours of hands-on volunteering.

Perhaps Larry Fink, CEO of the multi-billion dollar asset management company BlackRock, said it best in his recent annual letter entitled Purpose and Profit: “Unnerved by fundamental economic changes and the failure of government to provide lasting solutions, society is increasingly looking to companies, both public and private, to address pressing social and economic issues.”

The 252 companies (and counting) that we work with at Pledge 1% Colorado have helped to create more than $10 million that has been granted back to the community, along with thousands of hours of hands-on volunteering. But that’s just the beginning. If we continue to do our job well and prove to company why giving back matters, the for-profit community will begin to embrace philanthropy as a table stakes for starting a business instead of considering it an afterthought.

If you want to learn more or are ready to join the movement of business as a force for good in your own community, join us and take the Pledge at p1.today.

Pledge 1% Colorado

Matt Zwiebel

Pledge 1% Colorado

Matt Zwiebel is the Executive Director of Pledge 1% Colorado. Having spent the first part of his career as employee #2 of an early stage startup and later helping run Galvanize, a co-working space and coding bootcamp, in Denver, Matt has turned his focus to helping Colorado entrepreneurs find creative ways of supporting their local community. At Pledge 1% Colorado, Matt’s work is centered on building a network of companies who set aside a percentage of their resources to be allocated to impactful non-profits in the area. Outside of work, Matt is an avid snowboarder and enjoys seeing live music as often as possible.