Philanthropy should be integral to business
Utah is world famous for its generous and hard-working people. In fact, Utah ranks as the most charitable US state, with high rates of volunteering, service, and charitable gifts.
The state’s spirit of philanthropy doesn’t just come from its charitable residents. Utah’s business community has played a major role in establishing Utah’s spirit of generosity. James Clarke, founder of Clearlink and one of Utah’s most respected philanthropists, thinks this is a significant factor in the continued growth of Utah’s business community.
“I think a big part of the economic outlook of any state, but especially here in Utah, is how we as a business community come together and take care of our most vulnerable communities,” says Clarke.
Clarke hopes his legacy of giving, which was inspired by business leaders who came before him, will likewise help to inspire other business leaders in the state to consider growing their business with philanthropy as both a means to grow and as a reason for pursuing success from the start.
“It is important to understand that philanthropy is not a destination, but one of the best parts of the journey,” says Clarke who, along with his wife Andrea and their family have found their own journey enriched by the relationships they formed through their involvement in various causes. They especially cherish the opportunity to support adults living with disabilities through Central Utah Enterprises at the Labor and Honor Center, non-traditional students and single parents through Utah Valley University and the Stella H. Oaks Foundation, and children fighting through illness and injury with their families at Ronald McDonald House Charities.
In 2020, Andrea and James Clarke sought to formalize their legacy of giving by establishing their family foundation, The Labor and Honor Foundation. They created the foundation to provide financial resources, leadership expertise, and nonprofit insight to organizations that seek to alleviate poverty, increase educational attainment, and expand access to the arts.
In an effort to highlight and encourage the good that is being done in Utah, the Foundation recently implemented its Labor and Honor Award, recognizing remarkable Utah leaders during Utah Philanthropy Day. According to Natalie Okeson, executive director of the Labor and Honor Foundation, “The award recognizes an individual, family, or organization whose dedication to a cause has led to a phenomenal shift, breakthrough, or transformation in our state. They apply themselves unrelentingly in pursuit of a solution to our most pressing problems. The award winner demonstrates the highest dedication to the meaning of Labor and Honor: to achieve meaningful results that better the lives of others through work performed with honor, for a purpose.”
The first recipient of the award, Stephenie Larsen, CEO of Encircle, was a major inspiration to the Clarke family. “Stephanie and her husband Mitch (a prominent physician) have changed the face of how we support LGBTQ+ youth and how to help—so much more than just money—but with their hearts as well,” says Clarke.
"I think a big part of the economic outlook of any state, but especially here in Utah, is how we as a business community come together and take care of our most vulnerable communities."
Encircle is a nonprofit started to bring families and communities together to enable LGBTQ youth to thrive. “Encircle’s success relies on the incredible generosity of both individuals and businesses to achieve this mission,” says Larsen.
“Where business’s purpose is profit; Nonprofits’ purposes are to solve difficult societal issues. Both are essential for thriving communities. Nonprofits cannot fulfill their missions without the generosity and commitment of philanthropy,” says Larsen. Collaboration between for-profit businesses and nonprofits can make philanthropic gifts reach their maximum potential.
Clarke believes Utah’s for-profit businesses can also benefit from fostering a culture of philanthropy from their very start, pointing to the success of a number of business leaders in the state who have led their businesses with philanthropy as a core value. “We’ve all watched for decades the legendary generosity of the Eccles, the Millers and the Huntsmans, but it is important to note that it does not take a generations-old family foundation to do good. The next generation can and should be giving all along the way as we grow our businesses,” Clarke says.
For evidence of Clarke’s philanthropy first theory, look no further than Utah’s own Cotopaxi. Utah’s first certified Benefit Corporation was founded with philanthropy as its core value. When Cotopaxi launched in 2014, its mission to eradicate extreme poverty and show that businesses could be a force for good in the world was uniquely at the center of its brand proposition.
Davis Smith, founder and CEO of Cotopaxi, attributes the company’s success to their deep commitment to giving back. “For the first five years of Cotopaxi’s history, we gave away more money than we made. It took a lot of courage and faith to take the step of putting our purpose and mission ahead of profits,” Smith says.
Cotopaxi uses a holistic approach to fighting poverty by committing a percentage of revenue toward poverty-fighting efforts, skills-based volunteerism, and product donations. Last year they assisted nearly 1.3 million people living in poverty through their Cotopaxi Foundation. The company is also Climate Neutral certified, a member of 1 percent for the Planet, and was recently backed by Bain Capital Double Impact, the $1.2 billion impact fund of Bain Capital.
“As I reflect on what it is that has made Cotopaxi successful, we believe that it is the courageous optimism of everyday people who choose to support accountable capitalism. The future of capitalism will involve consumers and employees giving their time and money to businesses that are deeply committed to their communities, protecting our planet, and to putting stakeholders ahead of profits. Ultimately, I’m a believer that doing good and doing well are not mutually exclusive, in fact, they will be inextricably linked as we work to create a better version of capitalism,” says Smith.
The value of philanthropy is well recognized by business leaders statewide. This recognition has contributed significantly to Utah’s charitable reputation. “In order for a business community to thrive, it is absolutely critical that philanthropy and service are priorities,” says Brandon Fugal, chairman of Colliers International, and one of Utah’s most prominent real estate and business leaders.
Fugal is no stranger to philanthropy himself and has been recognized in the state for his generous giving. “Supporting worthy causes including scholarships and programs at Utah Valley University, combating abuse with Saprea, donating to homeless initiatives, and elevating women in tech with Tech-Moms will continue to be an important part of my personal mission. I am personally thankful for the opportunities I have to give back and join with others, working together to elevate our community,” says Fugal.
Recently, Clarke returned to Clearlink, a company he started more than 20 years ago, sold more than 10 years ago, and bought back in 2021. Recognizing the importance of business-led philanthropy in the state, Clarke is eager to see the company expand upon its history of giving. In order to grow Clearlink’s corporate responsibility footprint and increase the company’s impact, Clarke will help the company establish two new philanthropy channels, Clearlink Cares and Clearlink Causes.
Clearlink Cares will support volunteering efforts within all of Clearlink’s employees’ communities, allowing Clearlinkers to engage in their neighborhoods in a manner that reflects their passion to show up for others and give of their time and talent. Clearlink Causes focuses on enabling Clearlink employees to drive dollars toward the organizations that provide the greatest impact in their lives and their communities, as Clearlink will provide a 1:1 donation match, up to $1,000 per employee per year. This initiative has been seeded with a $100,000 donation by Andrea and James Clarke.
Legacies of service and philanthropy like those mentioned here are part of what makes Utah so strong. Any business, whether small or well-established, should prioritize philanthropy both as a tool for growth and, as a goal to move toward, Clarke says. Doing so demonstrably strengthens communities and businesses alike, and helps to build a better Utah.