Chamber Foundation

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Foundation promotes business with a heart

The Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber is hoping businesses will see how much they can gain by giving.

The newly created Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber Foundation aims to get businesses involved to benefit the regional community. The Foundation just received its 501(c)(3) designation in April 2018, and the Chamber is planning an official kickoff in fall 2018.

“It’s all about social responsibility,” said Chamber President Joseph Bauman. “People want to do business with companies that care about people, that care about the environment, that care about their suppliers and their communities.”

The new Foundation will fund nonprofit programs and charitable initiatives both within Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber communities as well as neighboring Pontiac.

In addition, the Foundation will offer scholarships to Chamber member employees and their families who commit to attending a four-year university, community college or trade school within the state of Michigan. Plans are for the Foundation to award four $2,500 scholarships to students each year. The scholarships will be part of the Foundation’s larger effort to encourage young talent to remain in Michigan, Bauman noted.

The idea for the Foundation came from the Chamber’s five-year strategic plan, completed in November 2016, which prioritized conscious capitalism: private businesses operating in a socially conscious way that is still profitable.

“We wanted a vehicle that our members could make donations to and the collective resources would be directed by the Chamber to support our nonprofit partners,” Bauman said.

Chamber Executive Committee Chairman Donald Lee has been involved in philanthropic work for decades both through mission work he does with his church and through running an impact fund to invest in businesses that hire traditionally unemployable individuals from blighted areas.

When asked why he feels compelled to immerse himself so fully in philanthropic ventures, his answer is simple: “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Lee said the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber Foundation will not only provide opportunities to the people it helps, but also to those members of the community who want to help.

“It’s going to help us engage Birmingham Bloomfield residents to get more active in their community and outside their community,” Lee said. “People are really hungry to get involved; they just don’t always know how. If Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber can help engage that, we all win.”

It may seem counter-intuitive to ask entities that are based on profit and revenue to become vehicles for giving, but it’s a model that is supported by ample evidence that demonstrates that social responsibility is simply good business.

“People want to do business with companies that care about people, that care about the environment, that care about their suppliers and their communities,” Bauman said. “The resistance has been that people think it’s going to negatively impact their bottom line, but it doesn’t. There’s empirical evidence that proves the opposite is true.”

It comes down to when a business is more invested in its community, the community becomes more invested in the business. It’s a virtuous cycle that benefits everyone.

“The better you treat everybody in your workspace, the more profitable you are,” Bauman said.

Lee agreed, saying that profits and charity are not mutually exclusive.

“You can actually have a wonderful company that’s community oriented,” he said. “I think it adds value. We started this as really becoming partners in the community. We wanted to play a role in helping the overall health of our community.”

Lee believes most people will ultimately choose to work for companies that put the needs of their workers and community above profit margins.

“I want to work for a company that has a heart,” he said.

According to Forbes, there is real evidence to support the conscious capitalism concept. Companies that engage in socially responsible activities report higher earnings, as well as a higher trust among stakeholders, a deeper understanding of customers and higher employee engagement.

The Foundation is currently in the process of fundraising and will begin its charitable giving, including the scholarships, in 2019.

For his part, Lee would like to see the Foundation become a catalyst for a sort of charitable movement that will impact the entire region.

“I want it to be a tool that can stimulate our entire region to bring equality, to bring justice to our region, form a standpoint of job creation, education and community type events.” w