Doug Lessing Shows Businesses How to Improve Their Profits Through Philanthropy
Phin is changing how companies integrate philanthropy into the core of their business. Worth recently spoke with Phin founder Doug Lessing about how he’s marrying purpose with profits.
Q: Why did you start Phin? What’s the goal and mission behind the company?
A: We are at a unique moment in history: an inflection point in which there are several different paths that we may follow. With a planet in crisis and society under severe stresses from many different sources, the path we collectively follow is not preordained to be a viable one. However, it is also not preordained to be catastrophic, thanks to human ingenuity and the ability for us to be empathetic to those around us. I wanted to be an active participant in choosing the right path using the gifts I have been given, not a passive bystander.
I spent 30 years as a partner in a technology company, and following a successful acquisition, I wanted to put my time and talents to play my part in supporting the generations that follow us. I was inspired by my three Gen Z daughters and their tenacity at working to understand and solve tough problems at a young age. It seemed there was a generational shift that gave me hope for the future. My sister and business partner Susi Burke has been a part of that inspiration and is now Phin’s chief impact officer.
Phin’s vision is to be an exponential force for good and compassion. Whatever resources we have at hand, we want to multiply the potential impact through technology and ingenuity to help set our society and planet on the right path forward. That’s the big mission—to be a positive exponential force. As a lifelong entrepreneur, I created Phin (short for Philanthropy) as a certified B Corp with the mission to help companies be great by doing good. I believe that companies have a major role to play in solving the greatest problems we face.
The problem that many companies face right now is building high-functioning teams in a shifting hybrid/remote world. Employees working from home are known to be lonelier and more disconnected from their teammates and, critically, disconnected from their company’s values. We know from the extensive research available, that the ‘Great Resignation’ is under way and that the best talent is on the move, looking for companies that match their values and desire to live their lives in a certain way.
To solve that, Phin delivers team building experiences and employee engagement programs centered around social impact. These experiences are a way for a company to support non-profits financially while embedding their values into the fabric of their daily interactions with their team.
What is Phin’s business model? How does Phin create business value for the companies you work with?
Building teams is hard. Building remote teams is even harder. So, we asked the question: What if we could solve that team building problem and help people in need and save the planet? The heart of Phin is a philanthropic technology platform in which companies fund donations and employees choose the cause. For example, our team building experiences, like our Climate Quest Virtual Escape Room, have fun and purpose built in. Teams solve puzzles to escape, learn about environmental causes and unlock company-funded donations as part of the experience. The company is able to share its values and concern for the environment, nonprofits receive financial support and employees have an enjoyable and educational experience together—even if they are thousands of miles apart.
How is technology making an impact in the philanthropy and giving space?
Technology is a multiplier. Using technology, we can change corporate giving to be an inclusive, shared experience. For example, a company can simply write checks to nonprofits, OR use technology to engage thousands of employees to participate in that giving. Philanthropy becomes more than just financial support. It can become a community experience, raising awareness for causes through fun and purposeful experiences like team building. Combining technology in new ways can bring those experiences and exponential impact to life.
People are generally at the heart of businesses that value purpose along with profit. Have there been any people who’ve been instrumental during your entrepreneurial journey? And if yes, how so?
For 30 years, my sister and business partner Susi Burke has had the most impact on my journey as an entrepreneur. Following the successful acquisition of our last company, we now stand side by side as we bring Phin to life. It is said that the best relationships in business are complementary, and our two different approaches to entrepreneurship are well suited, and proven, to create success. Our business partner Fran Toolan, founder of our past company Firebrand, has also been a major influence on me as an entrepreneur. Fran was incorporating the right values and social good into our company before it was in vogue. He always led with his team and clients first in mind, and I try to model that every day as we build our new company.
What does worth beyond wealth mean to you, and how do you, as an entrepreneur, embrace that idea?
I founded Phin as a public benefit corporation, a certified B Corp, and a for-profit, for-good company. I believe that social good companies, like Phin, can be a model for others by embracing the power of business and creating value for customers as a means to creating effective, self-sustaining companies. Wealth is not an end goal. Leaving the planet a better place for the generations to come is a true measure of worth. Wealth is otherwise meaningless, except as to how we can put it to work for the greater good.
Ultimately, what kind of impact do you hope to have with Phin?
I want companies to understand that they can be better, stronger companies because they are socially responsible, not in spite of it. I want them to recognize that many of the best run companies have always had a strong triple bottom line ethos. Social good initiatives and values should not be forced. Instead, it should be recognized as integral to providing a better experience for employees, customers and community. If we do this right, we will dramatically increase the impact we have to build a better world.