It may be counterintuitive and unglamorous in the world of sexy startups and high-stakes buyouts, but it's also my truth:
The spirit of giving over the holidays is what led me to the world of investing.
I started See Jane Invest as a resource to help women launch businesses. That was it. A career in Washington backing the careers of female candidates had made me familiar with the world of charities and nonprofits. Helping was what I knew best.
But the example of women startup founders forced me to ask, "What's in it for me?" The relationship between a founder and her investors is one of reciprocity. I might be giving her the chance to build her business, but she is giving me a chance to make a profit off her hard work.
When I joined the investment group of the Baltimore Angels, which is dedicated to advancing early stage innovators and taking on a much higher level of risk, I turned to what I knew about giving. Why? Whether I'm donating to a worthy cause or looking for profit, I want to most of all stay true to myself and the reasons for investing in the first place. And I've found them to be helpful guidelines for investing and beyond:
Know What Makes You Rich
"Don't you ever believe for one second that money or things make you rich," my grandmother said one day while driving me and my cousins to the mall. She would know, given that her parents had lost the family farm during the Depression.
I was nine and she had just asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I believe my answer had something to do with owning magical ponies needing many, many stables. Having lost my grandfather only months earlier, she could not stomach my superficial daydream.
"Love is what makes you rich," she told me then. "Don't you ever forget that."
It remains emblazoned in my memory.
Before I write any kind of check, I find my gratitude.
Stay Honest About What You Value
I recently invested in Hip Chick Farms, an organic frozen chicken company. Did I see the chance for profit? Yes. Did I believe in the women on the team? Absolutely. Do I crave chicken nuggets like a sixth grader who wants to avoid growing an extra limb from eating them? Definitely.
In other words, I am their customer. I could spout all sorts of number crunching data about how I see the company skyrocketing in the next few years due to their increasing distribution outlets - which is very useful when I'm talking to other investors. But for me, this is only compelling when it's part of the strong belief I have in the integrity of the product (and all the ways that you can prepare chicken!)
In the same way, my family will always donate money to the Salvation Army. I could say it's because of the organization's impressive community outreach (which I have researched), but really, it's because my husband grew up hearing the stories of how the Salvation Army kept soldiers like his grandfather warm and looked after on a battlefield.
When I put my resources behind something, it has to resonate in my heart as much as my head. If it doesn't, I'm a mediocre supporter at best, and that's not really helping anyone.
Look for Combo Deals
My favorite charities tend to help people take advantage of overlooked opportunities. The organization I co-founded, Running Start, helps young women learn about running for public office. For Giving Tuesday I'll be hosting a tweetathon for No Kid Hungry, a charity that makes sure children aren't learning on empty stomachs. Both open doors to possibility.
It should be no surprise then that my favorite companies make a profit while improving the world around them. The first company I invested in, Allovue, is trying to change how schools affordably manage complicated budgets. This appeals to me since I used to work with school systems strapped for cash and short on accounting help. As an advisor at Impact Hub Baltimore, I see entrepreneurs building businesses around social good.
Combo deals rule.
This is only the beginning of what I consider to be my checklist to investing (and living). As we enter the season of giving and receiving, take a minute to remind yourself of the satisfaction of things that don't cost a penny, yet yield great returns.
Happy Giving Tuesday, and may all your favorite charities get stockings full of support!
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