Churchill famously said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
While this speaks to the personal fulfilment that comes with charitable giving, in my experience as CEO of several education organizations, I’ve seen firsthand the powerful way in which “giving” gives life to a company, its stakeholders, and interestingly to its bottom line and long-term success.
For the past decade, I’ve served as CEO of Curriculum Associates, a K-12 educational technology company working to drive gains for all learners. Instead of focusing on short-term profits, our company has thrived by embracing a 10-20-year long-term view and a commitment to educator success and the happiness of the employees who serve them. This, in turn, has driven renewals and, by extension, our growth, propelling us to become the 6th largest company in our industry with revenues that have quintupled in the last five years.
Our model shows that what makes good human sense can also make good business sense. Conscious Capitalism International defines conscious businesses like ours as those that are “galvanized by higher purposes that serve, align, and integrate the interests of all major stakeholders.” In striving to be good corporate citizens, we focus on ways to serve not only our customers and employees, but also to better society as a whole.
As the CEO of this unique company, I have put our people-first, long-term values into practice in a myriad of ways, from driving a future-focused product pipeline that responds to student and teacher feedback to voluntarily raising our minimum wage. But when it comes to giving, our recent philanthropic decision was by far the most radical. A few months ago, we gave most of our company away to charity.
How and Why it Worked
Last year, Curriculum Associates made the decision to honor our founding commitment to giving back in the biggest way we could dream up… by gifting the majority of company shares to charity. We then worked to find the best-fit partner to buy and hold these shares, and we were thrilled to settle on Berkshire Partners, a local firm deeply committed to our long-term continued growth and success. This gift resulted in a donation of approximately $200 million shared between the Iowa State University Foundation and the Boston Foundation, one of the 10 largest gifts in the US and the largest gift in the foundations’ combined 187-year histories.
So Why Did We Do It?
As a conscious company with a long-term focus, we believe it is our duty to “walk the walk” when it comes to service to our community. Our beloved Boston has many areas in need of improvement, and equity in education is at the top of the list. The city has great schools, but there is still a troubling achievement gap affecting low-income children. The Boston Foundation is committed to closing this gap and helping all students not only complete a K-12 education, but also to go on to achieve a postsecondary degree. This gift will strengthen the Foundation’s ability to continue—and increase—its support of innovation in education and other important areas of community life. This opportunity to positively impact the local community that has supported us all these years was one we leapt at.
We also chose to give the majority of our company away because, as a business founded to improve education for all students, we are committed to excellence in public ed. As schools like Iowa State, the alma mater of our esteemed founder, know well, donations to public universities trail far behind private universities. In 2015, NACUBO found that private universities’ total endowment value was $363.2 billion while public universities’ total endowment value was only $165.8 billion. Our gift ensures more access to quality higher learning opportunities, which will be transformative to generations of college students to come.
Finally – and here’s the business case – the decision allowed us to be incredibly selective in choosing a partner. After carefully weighing our options, we were able to make the unpressured decision to go with a firm committed to our long-term success and who could provide the resources to expand our support to more and more classrooms. We got world-class business partners, generations of kids got a leg-up on their future… a win-win.
Be assured that throughout this philanthropic transaction, my CEO hat remained firmly on, ensuring our gift was not only good for the recipients, but also good for the health of our company. Despite this historic gift of majority shares, Curriculum Associates is continuing to thrive and outpace the competition. Our rapid growth trajectory continues as the nation’s fastest-growing K-12 education publishing company, our pace of hiring has accelerated to meet the demands of our educators, and our company culture of putting employees first remains as steadfast as ever.
At 50 years young, we look forward to many more decades dedicated to improving educational opportunities, ensuring our business remains vibrant while inspiring newer kids on the block to see the benefits of weaving a culture of giving into their DNA.