Local Entrepreneurs Infuse Philanthropy Into Business Models


The Corporate Philanthropy Roundtable presented Entrepreneurs in Philanthropy at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, featuring panelists Zhena Muzyka, Lorrie Thomas Ross, Renee Grubb, and moderator Judy Hawkins.

Approximately 80 percent of businesses in Santa Barbara have one to five employees. A growing number of these small businesses are using their entrepreneurial spirit to design unique corporate giving programs that align with their companies’ goals. At a quarterly forum hosted by the Corporate Philanthropy Roundtable (CPR), three local entrepreneurs recently shared how they have integrated philanthropy programs into their business models.

Renee Grubb is the co-founder of Village Properties, a team of real estate specialists in the Santa Barbara region. She initiated the Teacher’s Fund to help Village Properties transition from arbitrary community donations to a focused charitable giving program. Since 2002 the Teacher’s Fund has helped public and private elementary school teachers buy classroom supplies, supporting 2,600 classes with over $1 million in funds. “We started talking about our gift giving, and we were giving a lot of money everywhere,” said Renee. “We needed to make a decision as to who we wanted to support and what kinds of charities we wanted to support, and we very quickly decided we wanted to support children. At the time we started the Teacher’s Fund, many of our agents had children in school so it made a lot of sense.”

In a competitive marketplace, having a philanthropic program like the Teacher’s Fund has helped distinguish Village Properties from other real estate agencies. Additionally, the program has been a tool for recruiting top talent. “I was trying to recruit a very good agent from another company and she had not made up her mind about whether she wanted to work with us,” said Renee. “The agent then went to a listing appointment and when she got there, the couple said they decided to list with Village Properties because we support teachers. The agent decided to join our company, and has been with us for about six years.”

In Their Own Words
VIDEO - Watch the Entrepreneurs in Philanthropy panel discussion.

Lorrie Thomas Ross is the CEO of Web Marketing Therapy, Inc., a marketing agency and training company. Her company has been donating 1 percent of its profits to environmental organizations since 2007. “As a business owner, I believe that we need to walk the talk,” said Lorrie. “Just because we are not a gargantuan organization, we can still make a small difference in the community. It is important to me and to my employees.”

As part of its business model, Lorrie said her company is cognizant not only of the causes they support but of the clients they choose to work with. “Part of my business plan also included the types of businesses we would serve. We do not work for organizations that are unethical. We work for organizations that have passionate professionals working to help people in their prospective fields,” said Lorrie. “When you are continually building an organization with your values, then you will attract the right people – the right employees and the right business.”

Zhena Muzyka is the founder of Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, a fair trade tea company with products in 18,000 stores around the world. Today, she focuses on The Robin Hood Laptop Project to help tea workers receive educational materials and computers. “Incorporating philanthropy into your model is another way for you to build your brand and your business. It is a way for people to know what you stand for by the products and services you give,” said Zhena. “If it is built into the model when your company is still small, it is less painful when your company is big because it is part of your growth.”

Inspired by the gifts of philanthropy she has benefited from in her own life, Zhena first received loans and scholarships to be the first in her family to attend college and later received community help to cover her son’s medical expenses. “I was so amazed by the generosity of people to come forward and help,” said Zhena. “When I asked the women who gave me a scholarship what I could do to repay them, they said I could do this for other girls when I have the opportunity to.”

CPR was formed to engage businesses in the process of giving and resource sharing as part of a community-wide approach to business development and corporate citizenship. For information about CPR membership, please call the Santa Barbara Foundation at (805) 963-1873 or visit sbfoundation.org/cpr. “One of the reasons that CPR exists is to create these forums and these kinds of conversations to help all of us learn from each other,” said Julie Capritto, senior vice president and COO for AGIA Affinity Services. “We want to talk about best practices, strategies, and ways to create sustained, forward impact in our philanthropy.”

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