Build Then Give: Supporting Others in Your Ecosystem

A kid riding a bike at sunrise

“You gave away $12,000 last year,” I told her. “How does that feel?”

Her face betrayed her. As I watched her face over the Zoom link, I saw her shock, then confusion.

“But I didn’t give anything to charity last year,” she said. “I couldn’t—I wasn’t even paying myself!”

“Not to charity,” I said.

I broke down all the discounts she was giving away at the gym. None were huge; but all together they made a world of difference. The $20 discount she was giving a firefighter wouldn’t change his life; but in total, the $12,000 could have changed her own.

This sounds like an odd story to share in a post that’s all about giving to your community. But I want you to hear it first because the stories I’m about to share won’t be possible for you unless you build a solid foundation first.

Build Then Give

Here are the steps to lifting up others in your community:

1. Become wealthy
2. Share the wealth.

“Wealthy” means freedom of finances and time. You can read more about that here. For today, though, it just means that you have more than enough, that you get yourself on solid ground before you start giving it all away, that you put on your own face mask first, and that you eat the sandwich.

Almost every gym owner I know is in a huge rush to support charities, become a benefactor or just contribute. But here’s what usually happens:

1. Gym hosts a fundraiser.
2. Fundraiser makes money.
3. Gym does not make money.
4. No more fundraisers.

Our hero in the above story—let’s call her Madeleine—wasn’t paying herself when she called me for the first time. But she was still concerned about how much her clients were paying—of course she was.

I remember her epiphany:

“So I basically gave that firefighter $240 out of my pocket last year, even when I wasn’t paying myself anything—and he makes more than I do!”

Yes. Forget the complicated emotional reasons to give discounts (you can read more about why we don’t here). For today, my point is this:

If you can’t afford to pay money out of your pocket, neither can your business. Make your business successful. Build a platform for giving. Then give.

Where to Give

Your clients don’t need the $20 as badly as others in your community do.

Consider your mission. What will it take to make your local community healthier?

How to Give

I can’t tell you how to spend your money. But the best advice I ever got about philanthropy was this: “Instead of giving a million dollars to a big charity, find a place where $10,000 will significantly and permanently change a life, and do that 100 times.”

That’s been my strategy since: to find leverage.

The great news: You don’t have to wait until you have $10,000. You just have to wait until you have some leverage.

For example, my local mission is to empower entrepreneurs and keep kids fit and healthy.

So last month Robin and I bought 50 bikes for local kids in foster care.

Then we donated $10,000 to Steve’s Club, which buys gym memberships for inner-city kids (and teaches them about leadership).

We also sponsor hockey teams with time and money and do fun stuff like send lasagnas to families suffering in the Covid Crisis.

I’m not sharing these things to brag, just to provide you with a few examples of what’s possible when you build a solid platform for helping others.

Over the years, I ran many fundraisers at Catalyst. In the early days, I’d count up the money at the end of the day and stick it in an envelope. Sure, I was proud of the community—but I also knew that I was struggling, and that my gym community would lose a lot more than squat racks if I went under. And so I became even more determined to build a profitable business.

Every time a gym closes, a community loses.

They lose a meeting ground.

They lose a model for equality and inclusiveness.

They lose a clear path to better health.

They lose an example of good citizenship.

They lose tax dollars, overlapping revenues and ice cream purchases (at least, that’s where around 1 percent of my budget goes).

They lose an inspirational example of entrepreneurship.

They lose a leader. Or two. Maybe a dozen.

Gym owners are among the most generous people I know. Sometimes to a fault. Build your platform, then give more than you dreamed.

Other Media in This Series

Bringing People Together: Your Ecosystem
Making Local Connections: Your Ecosystem
Victory by Association: Your Ecosystem


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.