Blurring the lines between business and charity

Gus Sharp

We tend to divide things into buckets. Some activities are charitable, others are commercial. But in reality, the lines between these things are a lot murkier than they first appear. Businesses don’t have to spend every single resource on their bottom line, and charitable activity can benefit from some solid commercial acumen.

That’s the message that Simon Falconer is sending to anyone who can hear it. He owns an IT firm called  Resolve IT. His priority is on building doing good into his company’s DNA - and he thinks every company should do the same.

Resolve IT started out in 2007 when Simon hosted friends’ websites. He then moved up the chain, eventually specialising in hosting services for lawyers. Now, he’s working with more than 450 lawyers across 35 firms. He does a significant amount of consulting to help firms adopt software, change processes, and so on.

Simon sees IT as an enabler. Think about how much more productive you are with a calculator than adding up numbers by hand. That calculator is a very basic form of IT. By providing IT services to organisations, Simon is making them more efficient, more effective, and better-able to fulfill their mission.

Resolve IT carries a significant amount of charitable work. For example, one of his major clients is a charity called Open Home Foundation, who he works with at a significant discount. Open Home Foundation provides a variety of services, such as social work, for at-risk children. Resolve also works directly with other charities, such as the NZ Book Council, Riding for the Disabled and single handedly funds WETAP, an arts therapy programme.

This is more than a box-ticking exercise. Working with charities is an integral part of Resolve’s DNA. Indeed, one of the reasons Simon is passionate about this is because of that enabling aspect of IT. By helping to make some charities more productive through good IT systems and practice, he can influence a significant amount of good work.

Building the DNA

So how do you do this? Simon started with the organisation’s values. By writing down what they stood for, he was able to set a clear direction for every subsequent decision. It only took a few minutes, because his values were such a key part of how he does business. With that in mind, Resolve’s values are:

 

  1. Delight customers

  2. Look after each other

  3. Use profit to do good

 

From here, he built a culture - generally in his hiring practices. He made sure that every person he hired shared those three values - and also made sure that conversations around these values were happening, whether he was in the room or not.

This is easier than it sounds because his values are so authentic. Rather than being some words that sound nice, they’re truly reflecting what he stands for. When that’s the case, it’s easy to test ideas and proposals against those values. If the values are just lip service, then they probably won’t match the organisation’s actual activities.

The purpose of this whole exercise is to create a machine that can continue to do good without him. This is sooner rather than later - Simon is moving on to become an Anglican minister, spending more time in the community and less time on business. But he’s confident that the business will continue to do good work, because he’s made those values and practices a key part of its culture and DNA.

BrandsBrian Steele