When we think about philanthropy and giving back to society, we often associate it with giving or raising money to solve an issue. But building a socially responsible brand can be achieved in many more ways than just filling empty pockets. In this post, I’m going to talk about a topic that’s very close to my heart: building a brand that gives back – to social causes, local or global communities.
Many entrepreneurs procrastinate on this because they think that only a well-established brand can afford it. We often tell ourselves that we’ll join the good causes when we have “enough money”, or when “The circumstances are right”. But believe me, money will always have a place in your growing company, no matter how strong you grow, and circumstances are never right.
Focus on a different mindset instead: even if your brand is small, you have many ways to give back. In this post, I’ll give you inspiring examples to prove this.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO BUILD A SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE BRAND?
No matter what’s your political opinion, we can all agree that corporations have the biggest impact on our planet right now. Big shareholders and CEO’s decide about our planet’s – and our kids’ – future. They push politicians – therefore public opinion – in certain directions.
Yes, we can all try to do our best: recycle, choose the bike instead of the car, have less meat-based meals, don’t use plastic bottles, buy fair trade products. But after all, if companies decide to keep on littering our word, manufacture in grave conditions and use up natural resources, our destiny won’t change much.
But when a company decides to take risk, stand for its values, instead of the empty preaches and walking the safe path, that’s when our world grows a better place. This can be a tiny change like no more plastic straws at IKEA restaurants or gigantic ones like changing the world’s viewpoint about electric cars (Tesla).
Therefore, as an entrepreneur you must take a stand for positive change. It’s your responsibility not just for yourself, but your employees, community and yes, in this globalized world, even for the whole planet.
OK, I step off my soapbox in hope that I didn’t scared you away. As much as building a socially responsible brand feels overwhelming, it’s also fun.
Below I list many examples on how a company can achieve positive change. You can choose any method or combine them. I also add the benefits and the possible obstacles of each method so that you can choose the most suitable for your company.
20 WAYS YOUR COMPANY CAN GIVE BACK
#1 - DONATING FROM YOUR PROFIT
As I said earlier, this is the first idea that comes to our mind when talking about charity. In fact, I had at least 3 occasions during my son’s first year in school when the school sent home donation slips for various reasons.
Donating your money is an easy way to help a cause that’s important for you and your company.
Easy, you can do it in an instant without a lot of invested energy
Can be started with small amounts
You might not be sure if the money is used in the way you prefer. In fact in many cases the money or the purchased aid never gets to its intended destination.
If you’re small, start with a small amount first. Even that amount can provide a day at school for a kid, a meal for a homeless or a newly planted tree.
#2 - RAISING MONEY
Raising money means that you organize an event (can be online too) where you collect money with the help of your followers. It can be achieved in many ways, for example you can offer a small gift or educational material in return for your followers’ donations. Or you can donate a certain percentage of each sale you make to a good cause.
Raising money can also be made fun. You can challenge your community to come up with a bigger amount than last year and offer prizes.
You can raise a bigger amount than that you could afford on your own
It can be made fun
Requires more of your time and energy plus a marketing strategy to make the campaign viable
If you’re small, try this method only once or twice a year with the cause that’s most important to you. This method requires lots of marketing effort so you might have to attach it with a for profit campaign. For example, as part of your new product launch, you can say that from every sold item, you’ll donate 10%. Then, you can infuse this message into your sales copy, motivating more people to buy and do good at the same time.
#3 - VOLUNTEERING
What’s as valuable – or even more valuable – as your hard-earned dollars? Your time of course.
At the beginning of your business adventure, you’ll most probably want to invest all your earnings back into your business. And that’s totally ok. You can still offer your time for the cause you want to support by volunteering at a local organization. Let your employees come too!
Volunteering can be very motivating. It’s also a great team building exercise for your employees.
Volunteering can help you build new relationships that can lead to future opportunities
Sometimes it can be hard to find the best volunteer opportunities close to your location.
If you’re small, chances are that you can’t close your entire office for a week. Dedicate less time first and raise it as your company strengthens.
#4 – WORK PRO-BONO
Another way to donate your time instead of your money: offer your services for free.
I know, this is a sensitive topic in many industries. As a designer who gets asked for free “it’ll be great for your portfolio” type of work, I would definitely grunt at this option first.
It’s important to note that you don’t offer your service for free to anyone. That devalues you and your industry. But if the right person, non-profit organization asks – or even better, you reach out and offer free services – it can still work.
Pro-bono work can introduce you to new people and bring new business opportunities in the future. Those who need your help now, might return later as paying customers
You can’t know at the beginning if the person or organization you support with your valuable time is really a good match. Make sure they appreciate what you do and that you are both comfortable in the project.
If you’re small, make sure that you set a limit on how much of your time you can give away for free.
#5 – OFFER YOUR PRODUCT INSTEAD OF MONEY
Similarly to pro-bono work, you can offer your products for a good cause.
Who can be a better example than TOMS shoes?
If you’re not familiar with this amazing company, in a nutshell, they give one pair of shoes to a child in need after every sold pairs. Their impact to date is more than 93 million pairs of shoes – which honestly is mind-blowing.
- You can do good with the one thing you are the proudest of: your own product
- You might get overboard and give away too many of your products in a way that your business won’t be sustainable any more. So make sure that you keep in mind your donations when calculating your manufacturing costs and sales price.
If you’re small, start with smaller donations. For example, you can offer a one-time product donation to a local charity or event.
#6 – BUILDING THE RIGHT PRODUCT
This method is even more basic and fundamental than the ones I’ve listed so far.
Make the right product.
And when I say “right”, it means a product that brings positive change not just for those who use it but for our environment / society / global well-being.
S’Well is a great example. Their beautiful, insulated water bottles and tumblers are trendy enough that their users ditch the single use Starbuck cups and plastic water bottles. Less plastic waste is just what Mother Nature needs now.
Can you make your product less harmful for our environment? Can you create something that inspire people to live a better, healthier, more responsible life or help each other more often?
- You do good in the most fundamental way: by creating something that solves a global problem
- Don’t forget, your manufacturing can be as harmful as the bad products you want to replace. Take extra caution when choosing your materials and manufacturers and focus on the entire product lifecycle (e.g. what happens when someone wants to get rid of the product, can it be reused or recycled?)
#7 – USING THE RIGHT MATERIALS
As I mentioned above, it’s not enough to have the right product. You must calculate in the materials you use as they also have impact on the environment, and communities who create them.
My favorite beach towel is an organic cotton Turkish towel made by Fair Seas Supply Co. Founder Tiffany Shown wanted to make a versatile, beautiful products that’s also eco-friendly.
As she said in an interview: “Depending on who you ask, cotton is the dirtiest or second dirtiest crop in the world. It uses 10-25% of the world’s pesticides, tons of water, and the way the marketplace works, cotton goes from place to place and uses fuel to get shipped around in loops that make no sense.”
So she made it her personal quest to find a source that’s organic and still effective for a beach towel. She found this source in Turkey and then Fair Seas Supply Co. was born.
- Your product will be nice AND eco-friendly from the ground up.
- You might become eligible for certifications that can distinguish you from competitors (e.g. organic, fair trade, WHO certified, etc.)
- Finding the right materials and manufacturer will take lots of research and time
- In some cases it also means higher manufacturing cost
#8 – MANUFACTURE LOCALLY
Manufacturing locally has many benefits: you create jobs for your community. You also decrease your carbon footprint by cutting off unnecessary shipping. Finally, you’ll have a better insight on the manufacturing process and quality assurance.
Many customers also find it important to shop from brands that were created locally or at least in the same country.
Obstacles: you might not get as a good deal as with some Asian factories. Labour is more expensive in North America so you have to calculate it into your price.
#9 – USE YOUR INNOVATION IN UNEXPECTED ENVIRONMENTS
Sometimes you can offer your innovations in unexpected ways.
IKEA built mobile homes – similar to their modular furniture – for Syrian refugee camps. Lufa Farms in Montreal built organic vegetable gardens on industrial roof tops.
Think out of the box: how can you apply your innovative product or service in a new type of situation.
- These unexpected solutions might lead to unexpected opportunities or publicity
- By stepping out of your industry, you can bring back in new, fresh ideas
- Sometimes this method is not straightforward at first. You have to keep an open eye on possible opportunities and challenge yourself to see your innovation and products with fresh eyes.
#10 – EMPOWERING A LOCAL COMMUNITY
Another great way your business can do good is by empowering local communities.
Natura Brasil is a certified B-Corporations (a list of certified companies that operate in a sustainable, responsible and fair way). They focus on using natural ingredients found in the South America. In addition, they also help local communities - more than 300 families living in the Amazon region - to develop sustainable business models that benefit the forest.
Brainstorm ways you can give back to your community. Maybe you can teach on the career day at your local school and inspire children or create a club for entrepreneurs where you can exchange experiences.
- Your local community will be grateful… and you know there’s no better than word of mouth marketing
- Again, as with many of this methods, it will require time to find the people you want to support
#11 – GIVE A PLATFORM FOR OTHER BRANDS
At the beginning of each season, I excitedly wait to see what Causebox surprises me with. This subscription box features brands that I never heard of before, and who support important causes (from women empowerment, to cleaning the oceans or giving fair jobs to artisans in developing countries).
You can also be the one who support good brands with exposure. Some ideas to get your creative juices flow:
- Create a YouTube video series where you present and review socially responsible brands
- Offer giveaways with the products from these amazing brands
- Organize events (local or online) and invite the spokespeople of these brands
- Interview these brands on your blog
- Cross-promoting: let the brands know that you praised them so that they can share your post, video or give-away on their own marketing channels
- If you overdo this, your readers might think that you are a walking-talking affiliate campaigner. To avoid this, only promote those brands who you genuinely trust and love. And always add a disclaimer if your content has affiliate link.
#12 – OFFER EDUCATION
In our world, education is one of the biggest advantages someone can get. Education can give you hope, goals, opportunities. It can raise talented people up despite their circumstances.
Luckily, you don’t have to start your own university to offer scholarships.
This method works perfectly if you offer online courses, memberships that help others overcome an obstacle. Just like Marie Forleo does it every year in B-School.
B-School is a foundational course about online marketing and building online businesses. Marie offers scholarships for the most motivated, most talented applicants each year. As a B-School member myself, I know how much it means when you get a clear plan to start your business and succeed in it. Those talented scholarship applicants get the chance to change their life forever.
- You can be part of someone’s transformation thanks to your course
- You’ll most probably will get more scholarship applications than that you can give away so choosing the right people can be tough. But remember, you can offer scholarships next year too for those who couldn’t get in.
#13 - GO AGAINST THE STATUS QUO
This one is a tough one and not suitable for everyone.
To go against the status quo (e.g. challenge outdated technologies and operations) you have to accept that you take the “bigger fool’s role”. Other’s might laugh directly into your face… up until you turn the entire industry upside-down with your innovation.
Yep, this is an Elon Musk type of challenge and it requires absolute determination. But in return, you’ll get into history books and affect millions of lives.
If Musk has never dared to introduce us Tesla, our current view of electric cars would still be “slow, ugly and inefficient”. But he dared and succeeded in a way that changed the car industry forever.
You can change an entire industry for the better
This path is only for the most determined innovators who don’t care how many demotivating opinions they get
If you’re still small, make sure to strengthen the vision that drives you on this journey. You must prioritize this vision over pleasing the nay-sayers.
#14 – CHANGE YOUR OFFICE SPACE
The way you work every day must be aligned with your values and philanthropic goals. You can’t say that you are building a green company if meanwhile you through Keurig capsules in the regular garbage.
Your workspace can have a positive impact in many ways:
It can be eco-friendly
It can be accessible
It can be diverse
It can be educational, inspiring and motivating for your team
You work better towards your goals and vision when you are in the right environment
Some of these changes might be expensive
#15 – INVEST IN YOUR CORPORATE CULTURE
What matters even more than a good office is an even better corporate culture. There are way too many corporations investing in a fancy surface but forget about their culture.
I must bring up Causebox once again. The main theme for their latest box was “Clean Oceans” and many of the included products contributed to this cause.
However, they didn’t stop here. They decided to dedicate some time each week to go to Venice Beach (they are located in LA) and pick up garbage they find. The entire team from directors to the newest intern. What’s this if not team spirit combined with positive impact?
Happier, more creative and pro-active team
Your team might oppose some of your ideas. Make sure that you sit down together to brainstorm ways to improve your corporate culture
#16 – HELP OTHER SMALL BUSINESSES GROW
The Workaround Toronto is a shared office place that has an in-house, flexible childcare centre. So entrepreneur moms can make sure that their kids are in the best hands while they work, even if that only means a few hours per week. This flexibility helps people focus on their plans instead of worrying about their situation.
Don’t forget: when you help another entrepreneur, you help your whole community. That entrepreneur will provide jobs and education later on that leads to better standard of living for everyone.
You’ll soon build a big network of entrepreneurs who understand your everyday struggles and cheer with you for your wins
Supporting a community requires continuous effort, time and acceptance
#17 – GIVING AWAY WHAT YOU DON’T NEED
Are you getting rid of old computers? Old office furniture? Maybe your old work outfits?
Don’t throw it away so quick! There might be someone who can still use it.
For example, Dress for Success is one of the best places to donate your old work outfits. This organization empowers unemployed women to successfully land their next job. And what do you need for a job interview? Well, work outfit of course. Check their website, maybe there’s a location close to you where you can donate your outfits.
Otherwise, Salvation Army and other donation centres can help you find new owners for the things you don’t need any more.
- More space for you and something useful for someone else
- Less waste
- You have to make the work of listing your used items which takes time. You also have to meet the potential bidders which takes time.
#18 – GO DIGITAL
Going digital and using less paper is not only create less waste, it can also make sure that more people reaches your product.
E-books and audio books are a perfect example. Traditional books are only available for those with good vision. Those who have to live with visual impairment won’t be able to read them – unless you plan to publish in Braille too. But e-books (with tools like Kindle that can read up text) and audiobooks are inclusive for these people too.
Going digital also makes your everyday customers’ life easier.
My freshest experience related to this happened on a farmer’s market just a month ago. Usually vendors at farmers market don’t accept credit card, only cash. So I was pleasantly surprised when I could pay for some yummy homemade jam at one of the stands. Even more surprisingly, I paid on an iPad and was offered to receive my receipt in email too.
As someone who hates storing paper receipts with every inch of her body, I greatly appreciated this little gesture.
More versatile and accessible with less wasted paper
You might need to become a bit more tech-savvy
#19 - BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER
Brene Brown wrote in her book, Braving the Wilderness that in our divided society the most important fact that we must remember is that we are all human. We all want the same things: love, success, happiness, health, prosperity.
But it’s hard to keep this in mind when media and world leaders bombards us with hatred filled messages every minute of the day (no matter which side you’re on, it’s the same).
In the chapter “Hold Hands With Strangers”, Brown also mentions the power of collective experiences: the experience of connection, communal emotion and a sensation of “sacredness” that happens when we are part of something that’s bigger than us. During these experiences, our focus shifts from self to group. In addition, these experiences can lead to an increased sense of social connection which is an essential component of a healthy, happy life.
In other words, provide an environment that brings people together – even on a regular basis – to fight the divisiveness that’s far too common nowadays.
- You’ll be able to understand and accept people who doesn’t share the same worldview as you
- You might have to deal with completely opposite opinions. Remember to see the human being in those whose ideas are different from yours.
#20 – INSPIRE & MOTIVATE OTHERS
Finally, let’s talk about inspiring and motivating others, especially when it comes to your customers.
It’s easy to think that your connection with the customer ends when she types in her credit card number and clicks on the purchase button. But the truth is, that your journey just starts then. Now you have the chance to inspire and motivate her in order to bring the best out of your product.
Your product or service will transform her life. It can be a small transformation, like not buying any more bottled water because she bought a beautiful reusable tumbler from you. Or big, like teaching all the basics of online marketing and transforming her business for the better.
In both situations, your additional guidance can make a huge difference. It can remind your customers to always take her tumbler with her when going to a coffee date. It can keep the focus and enthusiasm in her when she finds your class challenging.
Inspiration and motivation are factors that you must keep in mind every time you write content for your blog, social media and product sales page.
Inspiring and motivating brands attract customers and are more successful than those companies who doesn’t provide it
Sometimes it’s hard to whip up inspirational content – life can get busy; work can burn you out. Remember that you need this inspiration and motivation as much as your followers. Find a mentor, a business idol who can keep you motivated.
WHICH METHOD WILL YOU IMPLEMENT?
Now, I’m ending this marathon-length post. Let me know which method will you implement in the close future so that you can have a brand that does good and gives back. Leave your comments below.