We live in an odd time when even mass murder is a fraught issue but if your heart is in the right place you will find a way to help.
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Few national tragedies have resulted in political controversy quite like the 17 murders at a high school in Parkland, Florida. I live a mile from that school.
As a serial entrepreneur with many friends who are founders and CEOs of other major businesses in Florida, we all knew we had to do something. But what? How could we help those in need without hurting our own businesses and exposing our employees to controversy they didn’t ask for?
We asked ourselves three questions, and the answers pointed us in the right direction. Here’s what we ended up doing. Maybe it will inform your own efforts, or maybe you’ll want to join ours…
1. How can we ease pain and avoid politics?
Some entrepreneurs cynically try to capitalize on current events by drawing connections to their businesses. It seldom works well. See Entrepreneur’s list of The 7 Biggest Social Media Fails of 2017, which included Pepsi getting involved in Black Lives Matter and Uber trying to support immigration protests. Both went badly and led to apologies.
After the Parkland tragedy, many businesses stayed silent, even as the nation engaged in a tense gun control debate. Here in South Florida, we grappled with a very practical matter: How do you provide mental health counseling not only to the students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but also to the traumatized community?
So I decided to focus my efforts solely on mental health, resisting all urges and pleas to comment on anything else. I followed the first rule of being a successful entrepreneur: Stay on message and avoid distractions.
2. Is it better to start our own charity or donate to an existing one?
It’s much easier to donate to a charity than create one, but the rewards can far outpace the work – especially if you look at the situation as an entrepreneur would. In this case, I couldn’t find an existing charity that fulfilled the niche I wanted to pursue. No other charity was focused on curating, explaining and sharing in one place all the vetted and highly regarded counseling services available to the South Florida community.
I created Parkland Cares and donated six figures to the effort. The website is a one-stop shop for anyone seeking immediate and long-term mental health counseling and programs for shooting survivors, their families,and the community-at-large. It’s been worth the effort and the money because, like any good entrepreneur I’m providing a service no one else presently is.
3. Will you go it alone or have help at every step?
For a minute, I was worried the workload would consume me, but many business leaders immediately responded to Parkland Cares. The response has been so generous we will be able to offer grants to nonprofit mental health providers by the end of the year. Many of the providers could be entrepreneurial efforts to offer new services, especially to underserved communities.
Obviously, as community leaders, we’re expected to give back. I didn’t realize how those leaders would respond when they saw one of their own doing something new. If you do the same in your own community, I bet you’ll be surprised.