When selfishness leads to selflessness: Can altruism be profitable?

So you're a giver, a doer, a helper, an inspirer. You truly believe that helping others is worth your time and effort, and boy are you putting in the time and effort.

Even better would be if more people were givers and doers and helpers.  When I meet someone who's genuinely inspired by the work they do for others, I often ask myself, "Why can't everybody be as happy as that guy is, giving away some of what he's got in exchange for a deep sense of fulfillment?"

Of course, the real answer is: they can. You don't have to be Superman to help a neightbor in need, and you don't have to be a "nonprofit" organization to work at making a difference in the lives of others.

Small business blog IttyBiz posted a nice article this week entitled called How selflessness can help your business by guest blogger Johnny B. Truant (hmmm, pseudonyms anyone?), encouraging for-profit businesses to consider the good they're doing for themselves when acting altruistically. He says:

When I heard people talk about charity and about giving, it always seemed like that would be nice to do someday, but ... right now, it’s a step backward. A noble step backward, but a step backward nonetheless.

Well, turns out I was wrong. Idealism, done right and on the right scale for you, will actually enhance your business. In other words, remember that step backward? If you take it, you may find that your next move is three steps forward.

Without saying so, Truant points to a kind of universal phenomenon in which doing unto others ends up doing yourself pretty well in the process.  As one wise person has said, "If you're truly selfish, you'll live for the sake of others." The honeybee knows it, and it's probably something those in the social change sector have known for a long time.

Of course, the other side of this discussion is whether Truant's points amount to little more than shallow self-promotion in the guise of sincere giving. That's something to explore: does giving somehow count for less when the giver expects direct benefit? Must a truly helpful act be completely selfless? What's the role of self-interest in altruism? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please join the conversation below.

And if you feel, as I do, that this notion could use some more exposure, and if you know someone who could use it, please forward it along.

Photo credit: "I'm getting a buzz", Micky Zlimen.

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Social entrepreneurs

I currently spend a lot of my time running a voting rights activism blog at All Things Reform. In my internet work, I've often run across the term "social entrepreneur." They are citizens running nonprofits to reform society for the better-- but here is a better, fuller definition, at http://www.ashoka.org/social_entrepreneur.

Although SE's traditionally may not have been driven to raise money or to enjoy the financial fruits of their services, the "brand names" of some successful leaders may make them financially comfortable, through the writing of books and articles, participating in events, and/or receiving donations. However, different SE's may feel their "successes" may be in different fruits of their services-- emotional well-being, financial security, expert in their field (brand name), etc.

Good point

Social entrepreneurship is a great example of tying one's own success to the success of others. It's not for everyone, but I've seen it work very well.