How to not be a phony

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How to not be a phony

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How to not be a phony

Do you feel fake? Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Someone that has convinced everyone around you that you are not what you truly are?

In a recent article by one of my favorite podcasters and developers, Scott Hanselman, the idea of being a phony was discussed. What Hanselman discusses is how people that have a lot to learn, particularly those in IT related fields, end up feeling like they know very little.

In fact, people can internalize these feelings and think that they know nothing compared to other coworkers or others in their field. These people end up feeling like fakes and that one day they will see that dreaded pink slip because someone has “figured them out”.

I can relate to this.

Being a programmer and writer I feel I can never learn enough and I’m always behind. But, instead of feeling like a failure I decided to sit down and come up with some ideas that can help me through these false feelings. If you are feeling like a phony, consider the points below:

Take a skills inventory

One of the best ways to figure out exactly what you’re capable of is to take out a piece of paper (or a text editor for you nerds out there 😉 ) and write down everything that you can do. Whether it be writing, drawing, being a visionary, understanding difficult mathematics, anything really; get it all down.

After you’ve written everything, add four columns to the right of your list. At the top of these write “beginner”, “intermediate”, “advanced”, and “expert”. Go down your list of skills and mark which skill is at which skill level.

Having a skills inventory is one of the best ways to realize who you really are and who you really aren’t. With this you can get a more realistic idea of what you need to learn and concentrate on as well as what you are good at.

Beat down negative thoughts

Regardless of having a skills inventory, negative thoughts and emotions are still going to be in your head on a daily basis. With you skills inventory though, you will be able to see which ones are legitimate and which ones are garbage.

Beat down the garbage.

There’s nothing special and magical to this. You just need to know that these are negative thoughts, that they happen to everyone, and that you can overcome them.

What we focus on, we empower and enlarge. Good multiplies when focused upon. Negativity multiplies when focused upon. The choice is ours: Which do we want more of?
– Julia Cameron

Honor the true ones

Not all negative thoughts are garbage. In fact some of them are the issues that you have to deal with the most.

After taking a skills inventory and listing out some of the negative thoughts you have on a daily basis, try to compare those thoughts to the inventory. See some sort of pattern? Are some negative thoughts related to how bad you are at something you want to be good at?

If so, then these are the exact issues that you must overcome to feel less “phony-like”.

Jack of all trades, master of one

I remember talking to one of my favorite professors while still in college. I told him that I was understanding that being in the IT field was complicated and that I could never stop learning to make it. I told him that I felt like I had to be a jack of all trades and master of none. He said,

“Yeah, sort of. More like a jack of all trades and a master of one.”

Take out your skills inventory again and see where you exel. If the things that you excel at are the things and activities that you truly enjoy then it looks like you are in good shape.

Mastering a smaller set of skills (a niche as you “serial entreprenuers” call it) while understanding a wider set is one of the best ways to set yourself up for success.

There’s nothing better than being good at what you love to do.

Rise up to the challenge

Now that you have a more honest outlook on your skill set, what you’re good at what you are terrible at, it’s now time to rise to a challenge.

The only time most humans grow when they are challenged. If you want to get better at what you love to do you have to constantly and willingly challenge yourself. Doing this will ensure you never have that “I’m a phony and everyone is about to figure it out” type of feeling again.

Understanding that you’re not a phony is all about integrity. You are no better and no worse than you actually are.

This is one of the hardest things to learn in life not just in the professional field. As soon as you realize who you are, who you want to be, and what you love to do, you can start to feel free in work and life.

You will see that life’s challenges are just the thing you need to make yourself believe that you aren’t a phony.

Definition of phony

Definition of phony (Entry 2 of 4)

Definition of phony (Entry 3 of 4)

Definition of -phony (Entry 4 of 4)

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from phony

Synonyms & Antonyms for phony

Synonyms: Adjective

  • bogus,
  • counterfeit,
  • fake,
  • false,
  • forged,
  • inauthentic,
  • queer,
  • sham,
  • snide,
  • spurious,
  • unauthentic

Synonyms: Noun

  • counterfeit,
  • fake,
  • forgery,
  • hoax,
  • humbug,
  • sham

Synonyms: Verb

  • counterfeit,
  • fake,
  • forge

Antonyms: Adjective

  • authentic,
  • bona fide,
  • genuine,
  • real,
  • unfaked

Visit the Thesaurus for More

Did You Know?

It’s the backstory of phony that deserves our attention. Phony (which dates from the early 1900s) is believed to be an alteration of the British fawney, the word for a gilded brass ring used in a confidence game called the “fawney rig.” In this game, the trickster drops a ring (or a purse with some valuables in it) and runs to pick the item up at the same time as the poor sap who notices it on the ground. The trickster asserts that the found treasure should be split between them. The one who’s “found” the item, convinced now of its value, chooses instead to give the con artist some money in order to keep the item, which is, of course, phony.

Examples of phony in a Sentence

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word ‘phony.’ Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of phony

1889, in the meaning defined above

1902, in the meaning defined above

1940, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for phony

perhaps alteration of fawney gilded brass ring used in the fawney rig, a confidence game, from Irish fáinne ring, from Old Irish ánne — more at anus

Noun combining form

Latin -phonia, from Greek -phōnia, from -phōnos sounding — more at -phone




or pho•ney

adj. -ni•er, -ni•est, adj.



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  • affected
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  • bogus
  • bona fide
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  • -phore
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  • PhonWd
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  • phony as a three-dollar bill
  • phony baloney
  • Phony Bliar
  • Phony Bliar
  • phony disease
  • phony it up
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  • phony something up
  • phony up
  • phony up something
  • Phony war
  • Phony war
  • Phony War on Terror
  • phony-baloney
  • phony-baloney
  • phonying it up
  • phonying up
  • phooey
  • phooey
  • phooey!
  • Phoom
  • Phoorsa
  • PHOP
  • phoP-activated gene C
  • PHoPS
  • Phoque
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Before accepting an apology, you first have to determine if it’s genuine.

Posted Oct 23, 2020


  • The Importance of Forgiveness
  • Find a therapist near me

Suppose someone apologizes to you for harm they’ve caused, and it doesn’t quite “land.” Maybe it doesn’t sound entirely sincere—or you get a vague sense that the person delivering it just wants to wrap it up, but you’re not yet ready to move on. Or maybe they offer any of these notoriously bad ways to make amends:

  • A statement that contains a “but” (“I’m sorry, but…”) invalidates the apology.
  • Similarly, “if” (“I’m sorry if…”) suggests that your hurt may not have happened.
  • Vague wording (“for what happened”) fails to take personal responsibility.
  • Passive voice (“the mistake that you were affected by”) is squirming out of responsibility, too.
  • Too many words, explanations, and justifications crowd the picture.

As I write this, I struggle with the term “fake apologies,” because of course, no one can know for sure what’s in the heart of another person. But if you’re the recipient, you somehow have to figure out whether or not to accept an apology, which is hard to do if you feel uneasy and mistrustful and just can’t tell if it’s genuine.

For starters, a few words of regret usually won’t carry enough weight to build (or rebuild) trust. The words “I’m sorry” are not a magic incantation that instantly inspires faith in someone. If you’re not interested in repairing the relationship in question, you don’t have to worry about whether the apology attempt is sincere. Just move on.

But, if there is some trust between you, you probably don’t want to give up too easily. If you value the relationship, you have to determine whether or not this apology is an attempt to manipulate you and misrepresent feelings of regret. The question here concerns the person’s motives. (We’ll get to other kinds of inadequate apologies below.)

The potential apology could be less than sincere in any number of ways:

How to not be a phony

  • He says the right words, but they’re pro forma (acting as required, but absent any real feeling for hurt he caused).
  • She simply wants the problem she created to disappear (but doesn’t care about healing your hurt).
  • He wants to avoid negative consequences of hurtful actions or inaction (rather than wanting to take responsibility for them).
  • They don’t believe they’re responsible but want interpersonal “credit” for making amends (putting you in the position of being the one causing a problem, e.g., “I said I was sorry—why are you holding a grudge?”).
  • She believes she’s done something harmful, and is preoccupied with her own guilt and only wants to alleviate that (rather than healing your hurt or repairing the relationship).

As they stand, these approaches are all pretty much doomed to fail. Unless they’re vastly improved, you won’t be healed and the relationship won’t be repaired.

You always may refuse to accept any inadequate apology. That’s your prerogative.

But, if you care about the person and you want to hold onto the relationship, you probably want to be sure about the person’s sincerity. What if the apology attempt is what I might call inept but well-meaning? Many would-be apologizers fall on their faces, not because of insincerity but because they simply don’t know how.

How can you determine the difference?

My suggestion: In order to find out if he means his unconvincing “I’m sorry,” give him a second chance to do it right and see what happens. Naturally, the key here is that you have to know what would be an effective apology, so you know what to ask for.

A Good Apology

Saying “I’m sorry” is rarely the first part of a good apology. Before saying anything, the other person has to understand your hurt. Usually, that means listening. So, ask her to back up and let you tell her about your experience of hurt, about how her behavior has affected you.

In this Step One, nothing about the apologizer is relevant: not her good intentions, good character, history of kindness, etc. If she’s not interested or unwilling to listen to you, you have discovered the shallowness of her regret. Her apology will remain partial and ineffective. If she can engage in a genuine attempt to understand, you are on your way to a real repair.

But that’s only the first step! There are four things that have to happen for the apology to be real and effective. Each one is necessary and none is sufficient by itself. If you and your would-be apologizer go through this process together, your relationship will not only recover from this hurt; it will be stronger.

The second step, to make a sincere statement of responsibility and empathy, is much easier if Step One has taken place—and much more convincing. Nonetheless, there are still several telltale ways for Step Two to go wrong, some of which appear in the beginning of this column. In my experience, most people need practice at these skills. If your apologizer has gotten this far with you, you can probably sense good-willed effort; nonetheless, your relationship will benefit from your holding high standards for this step.

The third step requires the person to make restitution, that is, to make up for the wrong or hurt. In relationships, these reparations can take the form of a “do-over,” a chance to get right what the person got wrong the first time. Often a sense of what needs to be done is reached via collaboration with you. Making it right requires a person to put her words or intentions into action. Reluctance to try again or to extend herself in this way is another sign that your apologizer isn’t really interested in making a thorough apology.

But Step Four, making sure it doesn’t happen again, is the pudding in which the proof lies. To be a trustworthy apologizer, the person has to change their ways or the conditions that led to the initial problem. Good intentions—or avowals to that effect—are easy, but rarely enough. It will take time for you to see if a true change has taken place, but a convincing plan helps you stay motivated to see it through.

Making your way through this process is energy-intensive for you both and its outcome only fully reveals itself over time. But if your apologizer follows these four steps, they will convince you of their sincerity. It’s the only way to know for sure.

Facebook image: OlgaLucky/Shutterstock

Updated 2 years ago

It is easy to see why viewers of Moonshiners might think the Discovery reality series is staged.

The show, which follows a group of individuals in the deep woods of Appalachia who go to extreme lengths to manufacture craft whiskey, is technically capturing an illegal activity and broadcasting it to millions of people — which has people wondering how the stars haven’t been caught by police yet.

Moonshiners may be the most fake show I’ve ever watched,” one fan tweeted before another added, “The Discovery show Moonshiners must be staged. If these guys are scared to get arrested why would you go on a TV reality show.”

How to not be a phony

So, is Moonshiners fake?

Kind of. Yes, cameras are capturing moonshiners, but it’s not as illegal as you think. Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control spokeswoman Kathleen Shaw responded to concern from residents about the illegal production of alcohol, and reassured everyone that the state has the situation under control by hinting the show is not as authentic as it seems.

“If illegal activity was actually taking place, the Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement would have taken action,” she wrote in an email per Fox News. “

Also, it is totally possible for the cast to obtain permits to manufacture their product — like star Tim Smith did. He now sells his “Climax” brand moonshine in stores nationwide.

Then how do the moonshiners not get arrested?

If you ask Tim and Steven Ray Tickle from the series, it’s all about not getting caught. “They’ve got to actually catch you doing something wrong. By the time that hits the TV…” Tickle said before Tim added, “And that’s physically catch you.”

How to not be a phony

Tickle continued, “We’re not sitting where we [were] at the time. You know, they watch me on TV Tuesday nights at 9, I’m still not sitting in the same spot at 10 o’clock when that show goes off. It’s non-taxed; that’s pretty much the only reason it’s illegal.”

They also explained why moonshine is illegal, and it’s has nothing to do with the alcohol level. “And that’s why moonshine’s illegal, because there’s no taxes being paid on it. It’s not that it’s unregulated or that the government thinks it could possibly be an inferior product, which if you know what you’re doing making moonshine, that’s absolutely what you don’t want to put out there,” Tickle explained. “Your product, you can’t put a label on it if you’re making it out in the woods. Your product has to sell itself. If you’ve got a bad product, nobody will ever buy shine from you again.”

Want more @MoonshinersTV? Here’s a sneak peek of the all new season coming in 2019.

In a separate interview with the network, Tim denied allegations that the show puts the cast in danger. “The big protection you have is [the show is] past tense,” he said. “You got to be arrested at the time you are committing the crime. I think the show can be reason for investigation. but until you get to the point to where you can actually touch something and grab something and taste something and feel something and smell something, you don’t have anything.”

Josh Owens also agrees with his co-stars, telling Motorcycle USA, “I’m not in jail because it’s not evidence, for one, that I’m on TV making moonshine. And for two, I could be doing anything, it could be just water. [The cops] got a lot bigger fish to fry than somebody just making a little bit of something to sip on when alcohol’s in every store and every bar in the countryside.”

Here’s how you can identify and avoid sites that just want to serve up ads next to outright falsehoods.

How to not be a phony

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The social network has been criticized for not vetting stories that appear on the site.

You don’t need Socrates to tell you that some websites spin crazy, made-up yarns just so you’ll click a link.

False information and fake news have been a problem on the internet almost since the beginning. The situation is so bad, one website,, is dedicated to debunking crazy internet tales and rumors that pop up like digital cockroaches.

In the fervor over whether Facebook should do something to separate fiction from fact, you may have wondered how you could figure out whether an article is worth clicking on. Here’s our advice on how to flag false stories that just want to take you for every click you’re worth.

What is ‘fake news?’

First of all, let’s be clear: We’re not talking about websites with paid journalists who fact-check their reporting and build their brands on accuracy. (Reputable companies have rules on fact-checking. CNET’s reporters and reviewers are required to verify information and back it up with links to source material such as press releases, videos and websites.)

The issue is that legitimate news stories get mixed in with everything else on your Facebook “news” feed. That includes stories from websites that are posing as news sources to harvest your clicks. What’s more, even if you click a link to a well-researched Wall Street Journal story, Facebook could show you related stories from sites that don’t meet those same standards.

As CNET News Editor-in-Chief Connie Guglielmo pointed out, the problem here is that everything in social media is treated like news, with no distinctions.

How to flag fake news sites

The best tool at your disposal, of course, is common sense. No matter what your political bent, if a story serves only to reinforce your beliefs, it’s best to be extra skeptical before sharing it.

If a report is purportedly based on other news stories, find the original source of the information. You might find some of the quotes are correct, but the rest may have been taken out of context or fabricated.

If the potentially false story you’re reading doesn’t link to an original source, well, that’s a bad sign. Use a search engine to look for the keywords in the story to see if that “news” is being reported by any other outlets.

Some stories, intentionally or not, read like satire. If it sounds like it could be a headline on the Onion, it’s best to double-check the story.

Also check the URL. If it has a strange ending, think twice about the story. An article claiming President Barack Obama banned the national anthem at US sporting events — false, if you were wondering — came from a website with the suffix “,” which makes no sense.

No, this is not a real story.

Screenshot by Laura Hautala/CNET

Finally, don’t trust a photograph. If you see a compelling photo and are just itching to share the story behind it, try this first:

  • Take a screenshot of the photo, cropping out everything but the image itself.
  • Open up Google Images in your browser.
  • Drag the screenshot into the Google Images search field.

Google will tell you its best guess as to who or what is pictured and where the image originated.

I tried this on a black-and-white photo that ran with a meme about Susan B. Anthony. The photo showed a woman in a Victorian gown lying in the street as police and bystanders stood over her. It turned out the suffragist in the photo was Britain’s Ada Wright, not Anthony.

Pro tip: You can do this with photos from dating and real estate websites too, and you might catch a scammer while you’re at it!

More ways to flag fake news sites

Programmers have put their heads down to come up with tools that can flag unverified reports in your social-media feeds.

For example, three students programmed a browser plugin that automatically evaluates stories linked in social media and highlights those that have been debunked elsewhere. The cute name for the plugin: FiB.

The plugin isn’t available for download yet, but the students are enlisting help in finishing it, through an open-source project.

New York Magazine writer Brian Feldman programmed a plugin too — it’s not automated, but it checks articles against a list of known fake news sites put together by Merrimack College media professor Melissa Zimdars.

Who’s writing this fake news?

According to a Buzzfeed story, young people in Macedonia created more than 100 pro-Trump websites to spread false news. The motive wasn’t political; it was to make money off your clicks.

Maybe we should be glad they’re not turning to cybercrime to capitalize on our collective naivete, like young people in other parts of Eastern Europe have done. Still, it’s pretty strange to think that Macedonian website owners were gaming Google’s or Facebook’s ad programs to make money off fake-but-viral news stories.

Google and Facebook each said on Monday that they will ban fake news sites from using their respective ad-selling software.

Snopes also has a guide to fake news sites, some of which are political and some of which are simply purveyors of wild and wacky lies.

The election may be over, but there’s still plenty of fake news to go around.

Introduction: How to Fake Sick

This step by step process is a project for school. This project will show three well developed techniques for faking sick. Each technique will first be introduced then explained step by step. Feel free to comment if you use one of these techniques and tell me if it works or not!

Step 1: Technique #1 Stomach Ache & Clammy Hands

A stomach flu with some clammy hands is considered to be one of the easiest and most effective ways to fake sick. The reasons for this are: a stomach ache is very easy to fake, it is a very common symptom, and no parent wants to send their child to school with stomach problems.

Step 2: Step #2 Stomachache

The first step is to fake a stomach ache which is pretty easy. All that it requires is to hold your stomach while you moan and groan a little!

Step 3: Step #1 Clammy Hands

The next step to faking a stomach flu is to make your hands feel sweaty. There are a number of different ways of doing this but the easiest way is to just lick them while you are doubled over with your “stomach pain.”

Step 4: Technique #2 Salsa in the Toliet

Warning the upcoming image resembles puke so feel free to look away during slide 6. (Two slides away)

Step 5: Step #1 Preparation

The first step is to take the salsa out of the fridge the night before and hide it somewhere in your bathroom. This way the next morning you will be able to dump the salsa into the toilet without having to perform any suspicious activities to get the salsa. (SLIDE 6 IS NEXT. )

Step 6: Step #2 Call in the Parents

For step #2 call your parents into the bathroom while positioning yourself at the base of the toilet giving the illusion that you have just hurled. Make sure they see the salsa filled bowl and then flush before they have time to look closely. (Though I doubt that anyone would want to do that)

Step 7: Technique #3 the Fever

This technique is the hardest to execute because it’s hard to fool a thermometer. (remember that faking a fever may cause you a visit to the hospital!)

Step 8: Step #1 Warm Water Swish

Before having your temperature taken make up an excuse that allows you to go into the bathroom and swish warm water around in your mouth for 30 seconds to a minute. Make sure to flush the toilet before turning on the water so your parents don’t get too suspicious.

Step 9: Step #2 Do Not Waste Time

As soon as you spit the water out your mouth will start to cool so do not waste any time taking your temperature. You may have to practice a few times to get the water at the right temperature. (Above 99 and below 104 degrees Fahrenheit)

Step 10: Recap

These three techniques have been created through years of practice and should work as long as you do not use them too often! Thanks for viewing my Instructable and feel free to comment!

Be the First to Share

Did you make this project? Share it with us!

How to not be a phony

I have always been described as a warm person and leader. It’s served me well throughout my career. People have taken a genuine interest in me and rooted for me based on the fact that they felt connected to me.

When people work for me, they feel that I genuinely care about their interests, and am invested in their success. While I certainly am invested heavily in all relationships that I have, including partners, employees, and family members, I do think that there are some lessons to be learned for people who are not as inherently warm that might help them appear more approachable, endearing, and well, likeable.

1. Warm up your face. Have you ever been in a meeting with someone who avoids eye contact? It’s unnerving, right? How about someone whose face is in a frown even when in a resting position? Try looking directly at the person you’re speaking to, and try smiling. Even when delivering tough news, watch your facial expressions.

2. Put on a different pair of shoes. Step out of your shoes and step into the shoes of the person you’re speaking with. Here’s the hard part: Do this even if you disagree with the person. Empathy is not about being right or wrong. It’s about understanding where the person is coming from and relating.

Many times I have had someone sit in my office with a huge gripe about something that I think is pretty ridiculous. i almost always try and relate, and validate how they feel.

“That must be hard” is a powerful and effective phrase that can have a tremendous impact.

It doesn’t mean that you agree with the person’s viewpoint, it just means that you recognize that a particular challenge is hard for them.

3. Share your story. To be a great leader, you have to let your guard down just a little bit. I find that sharing experiences I have had in my career, even difficult ones, often inspires employees.

When someone is feeling frustrated in their role, I listen to them, and then I share a story about how I was once frustrated in my own role. I also share how I handled it. Warm leaders share stories, not judgement, and allow people to come to their own learning from your shared experience.

4. Recognize individuals. As a leader, you need to be confident, strong, and a force of nature. And if you’re a very public leader, you’re often out of the office a lot. Take the time to notice when individual employees do great things. Then let them know you see it.

5. Don’t be a pushover. Don’t mistake warmth for being a total softie. Leaders need to lead, and that means making really tough decisions. A warm leader is able to communicate tough decisions in a gentle manner and is able to make their team feel supported throughout the experience.

Do you think warmth is an important characteristic in leadership? Share your thoughts below.

Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox

How to not be a phony

Giving back to the community or a cause your employees are passionate about can be an invaluable part of your company’s culture — instilling a sense of purpose and bonding your team together. But because building a healthy sustainable business is a full-time job in itself, incorporating social good in on top of that can be challenging.

For my business partner and me, donating time, money and resources has always been a priority. We have instilled a sense of community responsibility in our employees by weaving philanthropy into our business from the very beginning, even starting our own 501(c)(3).

To us, this is what “social good” has meant. Whether you’re starting something as basic as a recycling plan or considering developing a volunteering project for employees, the concept has a different meaning for everyone. Where and how you execute can therefore vary greatly, but the steps it takes to develop a team culture committed to a cause are the same.

Here are three key steps to help you incorporate social good into your business model:

1. Build the foundation. Integrating philanthropy into your company culture is absolutely a top-down initiative. If you exemplify a commitment to a cause, your team will follow. By building a commitment to social good into the foundation of your business, it becomes ingrained in employees from their first day. Inspire an appreciation for social good and you are also inspiring camaraderie and an understanding of your company’s priorities from the very beginning.
If you’ve been in business for a while and your team culture is already established, it’s a matter of starting small. Earmark a piece of sales for charity or take one day off to give back. Whatever your end goal, consider various initiatives and how the concept can be integrated in small ways to match your overall culture and business model.

2. Give back in a meaningful way. Just telling your team they should be passionate about a certain cause or initiative won’t generate true commitment. If employees are told they should act a certain way, it will not produce the type of outcome needed to sustain social good efforts. Adopt initiatives that have significant meaning to your company. Encourage employees from across departments to participate in shaping your philanthropic activities. Be conscientious of people’s passions and the ways in which you dedicate everyone’s time. The more you consider the cause from a team-building perspective, the more likely your company is to rally around that cause.

3. Be genuine. This is perhaps the most important quality of a great strategy: the cause needs to come from an authentic place. Why have you chosen this social good effort? What makes this initiative important to you, your company and overall business goals?

Align your efforts with a cause that means something to you and your business and your authenticity and credibility won’t be questioned. If you associate with a charity to make your company look good or win business, people will see through that.

Put simply: be smart about your giving and do it for the right reasons. Nothing establishes longevity in a company more than a culture created around doing good.