Strictly Business: Helping each other, no strings attached




Can’t believe I’m sayin’ it.

Maybe the crabby old complainer in me is getting soft. Who’d have thunk it?

But sometimes I think we place too much emphasis on our investment returns.

And no, I’m not talking about stocks or financial investments. I’m referring to the money, time and work we put in as community members and the returns we expect in the form of recognition and praise.

We presume, sometimes even expect, these returns of flattery for our investments. And we occasionally get a bit snooty when the acknowledgement doesn’t come through.

I understand. But some investors don’t expect the returns, as we learned from a story in Tuesday’s Columbian. Staff writer Stevie Mathieu reported on an anonymous restaurant patron’s wondrous gesture of leaving a $700 tip for a local waitress and budding entrepreneur.

The mysterious customer’s handwritten note, “I believe in you,” and her $700 investment check opened up new opportunities for waitress Rosie Salice, who works at the Mint Tea bistro on Main Street.

The patron, an out-of-town visitor with the first name RuthAnne, had admired a necklace made and worn by the 22-year-old waitress. Salice, in turn, had simply shared her dream of one day launching a business to sell her jewelry creations. Her goals, Salice told the stranger, were a bit out of reach for a poor working college student.

The restaurant patron left the check and the note while paying her bill.

Wow. RuthAnne’s note made it clear her investment wasn’t a gift, but start-up money instead. One could call her an angel investor, except that unlike those who seek high returns on the businesses they finance, RuthAnne’s investment came with no strings attached.

Seems it was RuthAnne’s words of encouragement that convinced Salice that her jewelry concept and dream were worthwhile pursuits. Salice started making a business plan, she told The Columbian. By Wednesday, her publicized good fortune had attracted a second investor — a woman who offered jewelry-making supplies — and a potential buyer who wanted to sell the products in her local salon. Perhaps this was the stranger’s return on investment, along with a sure-fire ticket through the Pearly Gates. I dunno.

But I do recognize there’s a lesson for all of us in this extraordinary tale. And I am taking it to heart in these days that we call the most giving time of the year.

With her gesture, RuthAnne’s example reminds us we can’t always expect or even presume we’ll see return payouts for our charitable investments. That’s a lesson for businesses, as well. My email inbox fills up in this giving season with news releases from companies seeking publicity for their support of worthwhile causes. I prefer hearing a story of a business that helps someone in need without looking for recognition.

Sometimes, RuthAnne taught us, there just isn’t a payout. Sometimes we don’t get our names put up in lights for investing in our community. Nonetheless, RuthAnne, an out-of-town visitor, assures us this place and its people are a worthwhile investment.