It’s true that charity begins at home, but should it end there? The answer is simple: absolutely not. Long gone are the days when profits were the lone focus of the business world and charitable involvement was nothing more than a tax break. Today’s consumers expect companies to actively and genuinely contribute to causes both close to home and around the world.
In fact, a 2013 Cone Communications study found 93 percent of consumers want businesses to support worthy social issues, including international economic development, access to clean water and eradication of poverty. About the same amount of people say they are very or somewhat likely to switch to a brand that is associated with a good cause.
Undoubtedly, your level of corporate social responsibility can play a huge role in your success. One needs to look no further for proof than TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, who launched the shoe company with the intent of giving back.
It was on a trip to Argentina when Mycoskie’s concept of “philanthropic capitalism” was born. After spotting locals wearing a unique style of shoe he’d never seen in the U.S. – and witnessing many children running around barefoot because their families could not afford to buy them shoes – he came up with the idea to launch a shoe company based on paying it forward. For every pair of shoes purchased, the company would give a pair to children in need in developing countries.
Though it hasn’t been without criticism, it’s clear that Mycoskie’s “One for One” strategy has been a smashing success. The company celebrated its 10 millionth pair of shoes donated – or 10 millionth pair of shoes sold, depending on how you look at it – a year ago. His shoes are carried in thousands of stores in countries around the world, and he has launched a complementary eyewear line. Not bad for an entrepreneur in his 30s.
TOMS is a dramatic example of how corporate philanthropy can work, but every company needn’t go to such extremes to experience the benefits of getting involved. Many businesses opt to make financial contributions to charity on a regular basis, while others choose to support their cause of choice in other ways, such as donating staff time or services, helping raise awareness, or gifting real estate.
Each company should choose its cause carefully and avoid firing off checks to every organization that reaches out. Strategically selecting a cause that resonates with both your business and customers can open the door to many new opportunities, from building a platform for launching new products to creating a conversation with customers. It’s also a chance to develop new partnerships with non-profits, vendors and investors. But be authentic, remembering it doesn’t take long for consumers to sniff out a false or fraudulent commitment and call you on it publicly.
When you launch a new campaign, start out small and ensure metrics are in place to properly track how much money is being directed to the cause and how much staff time is being spent on related projects. Depending on its success, you can ramp up or cut back involvement. Keep an eye on your budget and the benefits that your involvement are bringing to your business, and re-evaluate if needed.
Charitable involvement can have another positive, and sometimes unexpected, impact on a business. Many companies that throw their support behind a cause find it creates a sense of community in the workplace and infuses staff with a sense of pride. It also may give staff the opportunity to tackle tasks and projects outside their regular responsibilities, which could improve and diversify their skills. Happy, engaged workplaces not only attract the best talent, but retain those bright minds for a longer tenure.
Overall, we should remember the ultimate reason for getting involved is because it’s the right thing to do. Just as we pride ourselves on the quality of goods and services we provide to our customers and clients, we should pride ourselves on our community involvement as well.
As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”