Whether you’re new in the financial services industry or well established, what role does your firm play within your community?

Or does it play a role at all?

Some advisors feel that their busy firm demands 100% of their time, energy and resources, and therefore they pay little attention to social responsibility. For others, giving back to the community is in their firm’s DNA. They attribute their success, at least in part, to the fact that they made community service part of their founding mission.

Count me and my firm among the latter. We’re convinced that giving back to the communities is not only the right thing to do—it creates invaluable goodwill for us that generates many benefits, economic and otherwise. Yep, you really can do well by doing good.

My wife Jean and I formalized our philanthropic strategy years ago. We chose to focus our efforts in four areas: financial education, science, health care and the arts. A key requirement for us is “impact”—making sure our donations materially and meaningfully help a large number of people for a sustained period. If you don’t agree with this approach, you can adopt a different strategy. 

It’s easy to incorporate community support into your business plan. You can give every staff member one paid day off each year to engage in volunteerism like we do. You can match your employees’ charitable donations up to $1,000 per year like we do (we require that all recipients be local nonprofit organizations so the money stays in each community where we have offices). I’m sure you can come up with other ideas we haven’t thought of. 

If you want to support your communities but aren’t sure how, start by listing some causes you care about, or ask your staff to offer their ideas.

Once you’ve selected a charity, contact it and ask what it needs. Trust me: The organization won’t be shy about telling you. When we asked the fund-raising staff of a hospital foundation in our community what we could do for them, they gave us a three-page list filled with technology and bricks-and-mortar. We selected an item far down their list: nurses. That led to the creation of the Edelman Center for Nursing, and we’ve since expanded it to provide a free financial plan for nurses throughout the country.

Our science focus is astronomy. We provided funding to Rowan University (our alma mater) to establish the Edelman Planetarium; more than 20,000 schoolchildren visit each year. We also provided funding to the American Astronomical Society for the purchase and distribution of 25,000 Galileoscopes (telescopes that students can assemble and reassemble repeatedly), which were sent to thousands of elementary schoolteachers across the country in 2009 and again last year.

The list goes on (did I mention we sent copies of my book, The Truth About Money, to every prison library in the country?) I mention these merely to demonstrate that there are unlimited ways you can help others. No doubt there are causes and charities you care about and contribute to. Or perhaps you have recognized a need in your community that no one has addressed. That’s where you can get creative: Find a unique way to draw attention to that need, then lead the way in meeting it, encouraging others to join you.