Can you imagine not making any profit at all one day per week, every week? That’s what Shawn Kelly, owner and curator of Wall Blank, an art brokerage house based out of Rockford, Illinois, does on what he has dubbed “No Profit Fridays.”
What began as a singular promotion in support of a local cause has evolved into a weekly event, whereby the entire proceeds of all sales go directly to a non-profit organization of the artist’s choosing. The artist then forgoes any payment, and other than shipping costs, every single penny goes straight to the selected cause.
So far, Wall Blank has been able to send sizable donations to charitable groups such as Kiva, Happy Life Children’s Home, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Wishing Well, and many others. By creating an emotional tie between the artist and a cause, Wall Blank can reach consumers in a memorable way, which allows them to feel pride for their purchase and a special connection to the artwork.
For Shawn, these are relationships — not transactions — and he subscribes to the ‘vaue for the community, value for all’ philosophy in putting making a difference over making money. He admits his paycheck may be a little leaner, but the lives he’s been able to touch are that much richer. And you can’t put a price tag on compassion.
1. How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
Looking beyond the traditional financial ‘bottom-line’ and incorporating philanthropy at the core of your business.
2. Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
We release a new print of a piece of art every week day. Each piece is available for one week, unless it sells out sooner. 100% of the proceeds from the print released every Friday are given to a non-profit cause chosen by the artist. Currently, it goes beyond simply sacrificing profit on those pieces and we cover the printing costs and overhead out of pocket so that, truly, 100% can go to the cause.
3. How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
At the moment, we don’t have a follow-up mechanism for directly reporting the impact. We’ve considered encouraging other businesses to take part in the No Profit Friday concept and setting up a website that tracks, not only the monetary impact over time, but the stories of how the businesses are impacted and more importantly, the beneficiaries.
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
I think we are living in a time of both required transparency and backlash against greed. If we are going to succeed, then it’s only because of the customers and artists who support us. Many of them are passionate about causes and helping people, and honestly, I’d rather support those causes than add an extra zero to my paycheck. It’s been said that the more you give, the more you get. On paper it might not make sense to give away as much as 20% of your revenue, and I’m pretty sure the ROI will never work out positively, but at the end of the day, you’ll feel good about what you were able to do. Greed won’t ever be used to describe your company and you might gain a few new customers along the way who recognize that you’re serious about helping other people over making an extra buck.
It’s driven by more than just going to Africa and seeing hungry, dying children (I’ve done that). It’s driven by more than going to New Orleans and gutting flooded homes filled with moldy memories (I’ve done that). It’s driven by more than just writing someone a check to feed the homeless (I’ve done that). As a consumer myself, I want to build a business that cares about people and pays attention to what my customers are impacted by. If your neighbor’s house burned down and they didn’t have insurance, let me know, and maybe we can help raise a few months’ rent for them.
5. What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
In our case, it’s a lot of extra work if we have to be the ones to spread the word (outside our existing customer base) about each No Profit Friday. We’re finding that it’s essential to let the nonprofit know that we’re simply a tool to help them raise money, and hopefully, they’ll do their part to help spread the word as well. Having social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter also really help to magnify the effort, and offer the potential to raise a lot of money quickly.
Name: Shawn Kelley
Company: Wall Blank