By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer
It’s a simple question many entrepreneurs are asking themselves. Increasingly, entrepreneurs are pushing beyond purely self-interest-driven business to focus on ways in which they can leverage influence and expertise to impact social change—whether it’s a national video contest or a local blood drive.
In an ideal world, genuine passion is the key call-to-action. Beyond your personal connection to a cause, there are many business benefits. The primary business benefit of a social mission is to engender goodwill amongst core segments, though there are many secondary benefits. Elevating your brand image, rallying your team and building relationships with like-minded entrepreneurs are key secondary benefits of launching a social initiative.
Primary Business Benefits
The primary benefit of a social mission is all about authenticity. If your primary ambition of launching a social initiative is to bolster your brand image, your head and heart might not be in the game—instead centered on self-interest pursuits. It is about making a sustainable impact for core constituencies; it’s about uplifting public welfare; it’s about leveraging influence and talents to be an influential advocate for those with little to no representation.
Authenticity wins the hearts of your consumers. Consider VoxPop–a cafe and bookstore in Brooklyn, NY that promotes social awareness. Recently, VoxPop was on the verge of financial collapse when the CEO, Debi Ryan hosted two town hall meetings to pitch an investment deal to the community. Now, the cafe and bookstore has 144 new investors. VoxPop was able to live another day due to their genuine compassion for community members–who reciprocated the feeling to truly make VoxPop a community-driven businesss. Their authenticity won the hearts and consequently, pocketbooks of the local patrons.
“If [your social mission is] manipulative and just to drive sales, the public will see through it in a minute,” said Shelly Lazarus, Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide said to on | Philanthropy. Your social mission should not be a catalyst to make an impact on profits—it should be to make an impact beyond your profits.
Secondary Business Benefits
Though the primary objective of a social mission should be one of authentic altruism, there are many secondary benefits.
Elevate Brand Visibility and Image
Elevating brand visibility and image are two of the many secondary benefits. Through a social mission, your brand can garner publicity, highlight your passion points, build trust with core constituencies and differentiate you from the competition.
Aligning your brand with a social mission demonstrates your ability to look beyond self-interest. A social mission can build authenticity and trust in a world where headlines are frequently focused on corporate greed (think ousted Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain). “People might start looking at those organizations that may stand above the others in terms of how they act, how they treat people,” said Chris Wilson, head of climate change and sustainability at another consultancy, Deloitte to News.com.
Rally Your Team
Social initiatives can form meaningful bonds between team members through empowering change and engendering a sense of ownership. As your team works towards an earnest, selfless objective, relationships within the team can become stronger and more sustainable.
“Our employees are proud and people want to work for us. This is never the goal of our philanthropy, but it is terrific,” said Sharon D’Agostino, Vice President, Corporate Contributions and Community Relations at Johnson and Johnson from the 2009 CECP Corporate Philanthropy Group Summit.
To rally their employees, clothing manufacturer, Gap, created the Press Play: be the change program. Gap asked their employees to upload videos of their volunteer efforts and have friends, family, employees and the general public vote for the most compelling outtakes. “They Will Surf Again” video won a $10,000 grant with a total of 3,895 votes. The video, created by Tammy Kielar, General Manager of Five Points Plaza Gap in Huntington Beach, documented her volunteer efforts for young people affected by spinal cord injuries.
“Our goal was to engage our employees in a new and innovative way to inspire and encourage them to continue supporting the communities where we do business. Our hope was to increase employee pride and loyalty in working for Gap Inc. and celebrate the great partnership between our employees and the nonprofits we support,” Gail Gershon, Director of Employee Engagement at the Gap Foundation said to on | Philanthropy.
The Press Play initiative is an example of how to empower, engage and facilitate ownership with your team. Though Gap has more resources than the average company, it’s about making the connection between your teams passion points and the company to launch a social initative everyone can be excited and passion about.
Not always do social initiatives have to be started by a single company. Just as a social mission can build meaningful relationships between consumer and business, it can also be a great introduction between businesses. Collaboration can reduce the costs of undertaking a large social initiative and align your brand with like-minded entrepreneurs.
An example of social collaboration would be a “blood-letting” event hosted by local eateries in the Phillipines. Waffle Time Inc. together with Coffeebreak Café, International, and Western Visayas Medical Center Blood Bank Department recently held a bloodletting activity at Coffeebreak-Metro. Waffle Time, Coffebreak, Green Mango, and Rice ‘n More crews, Nothing but Desserts, as well as GreatFoods Concepts, Inc. employees participated in the blood drive. The event gathered the community in support of a good cause–providing vis-a-vis with business and consumer.
Photo by Svilen Mushkatov from Stock.Xchng