In my recent cause marketing interview with Social Actions, I highlighted the importance of making doing good as easy as possible for consumers. In an age where time is at a premium, most people can’t expend resources researching charities or dedicate a significant amount of hours volunteering or getting actively involved with causes. But that doesn’t mitigate that the desire for change still exists, so companies who offer turnkey solutions for making a difference that don’t disrupt busy schedules or require extra effort will be able to reach and motivate today’s conscious consumer.
This was the impetus behind BetterHumanRace.com, a search aggregator that leverages routine online behaviors toward doing good. By performing your search at BetterHumanRace.com, instead of Google, or using their interface to purchase Amazon products, 100% of the profit generated goes toward a variety of causes, which are voted on by users. So, users can make contributions to worthy charitable organizations simply by doing things they would normally do online. And as more people use the BetterHumanRace.com interface to complete common online tasks, that change really adds up — figuratively and literally.
Founded by husband and wife team, Ross and Lori Shanken, BetterHumanRace.com was built with the intent to give consumers a way to personally affect change without any added effort, and by building this model, Ross quickly realized that he could generate exponentially more money for causes, and hence, create greater change, through a business than he could ever donate on his own. Tapping into the collective search and buying power of consumers, BetterHumanRace.com becomes a hub for change, making charitable giving an everyday experience.
1. How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
To me, for-profit philanthropy is the merging of one’s ability to grow a business, and leveraging that growth to help people in need. In our capitalist world, we have the ability to generate so much more than one really needs to live a quality life. All of this additional profit can be consumed for non-necessities or much of it can be utilized to provide necessities to those who don’t have them.
Many of us are so fortunate. For example, if you are reading this, you are probably one of the more fortunate people in this world. You have access to a computer, you can read, you likely have access to decent healthcare, have food on the table, shelter, and likely have had some level of disposable income for non-necessities. Make no mistake, you have earned much of this good fortune. However, there are millions of people who today don’t know if, or from where, their next meal will come; children who don’t have access to proper education; people who can’t afford the simple medical care required to help themselves or their families. Those of us who have the ability to generate extra income through business can help.
So, for me, for-profit philanthropy is building businesses that are ongoing profit machines, and funneling some (or in our case, all) of the profits to people who are most in need.
2. Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
BetterHumanRace.com’s vision is to provide an online community that will unify all those who wish to help people in need, but are not able to donate additional time or money. Our belief is that, if given the choice of products, services and online experiences that are very similar, most people will choose a product, service or online experience that is helping to make the world a better place. We started in the simplest spot — Google searches. Most people utilize Google to search the Web, and if you do your Google searches with BetterHumanRace.com, all of our profits from your searches go to good causes. We’ve also recently added Amazon.com purchases. As one of the largest online retailers, people buy billions of dollars worth of products and services from Amazon.com. If you buy from Amazon.com through the BetterHumanRace.com link, all of our profits from your purchases go to good causes. We have plans to add more and more products, services, and popular free online experiences to our offering, and we believe that more people will choose BetterHumanRace.com, because by doing so, they are truly helping to make the world a better place — without any additional sacrifice of time or money.
BetterHumanRace.com donates 100% of its profits to organizations that are helping people in need. We feel that providing 1%, 10%, or 50% is not good enough to achieve our lofty goal of helping millions of people, on an ongoing basis, with the profit machine that our community will drive. We provide an outlet for the millions of people who want to help more, but do not have additional resources (time and money) to donate directly; so they can simply do Google searches, Amazon.com purchases, and other activities they’re already doing online today, and help in that way.
Additionally, everyone in our community may vote for which of our selected charities will receive our profits. This voting capability ensures that not only are people helping to raise money through their online activities, but they can help determine which charity should receive those dollars.
Core to our business plan is grass-roots campaigns to spread the word. We are active on social networks, and we are growing our list of opt-in emails (none of these will ever be shared, sold, or distributed to any outside party). These outlets allow us to continually communicate with our constituents. Additionally, we are working closely with our supported charities to spread the word within their communities, which creates a “virtuous cycle.” They encourage their supporters to visit and use our site and vote for their causes, which ultimately raises more money and awareness for their causes and our site.
The 3 charities selected for the current campaign We Are Family Foundation’s Three Dot Dash Program, Cradles to Crayons, and Love Without Boundaries) have been extremely helpful and are actively involved in promoting their causes, via BetterHumanRace.com. By the way, these are 3 very inspiring charities with passionate people driving them. I’d encourage everyone to go to our site to learn more about the great works they’re doing and vote for where you’d like our profits to go.
3. How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
We communicate through email, for those who have provided it to us on an opt-in basis, as well as our opt-in Facebook group, and through our followers on Twitter. Additionally, we are building a portion of our website where we’ll have the amounts raised for each charity from prior campaigns, the impact those dollars will have on people in need, and photos/videos that will show the difference our community is making.
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
I think of this question in terms of 2 distinct categories — the “business” answer and the “moral” answer.
From a business perspective: For any product or service, over time there is increased competition, and usually this means multiple companies providing what are perceived to be very similar products and services. In any market, as competition increases, every company needs to seek out competitive advantages. What increasingly resonates with consumers, especially as the world becomes more connected through technology, is how much a particular business is improving our world or detracting from our world. I won’t mention any brands by name, but we can all think of well known brands that some people will no longer buy from because their perception is that the business’ activities are not helping the world, but rather are detracting from our world. Other brands are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Given the choice between one of their products and a similar product that is not perceived as philanthropic or socially responsible, most people will choose the philanthropic or more socially responsible brand. So, from a business perspective, philanthropy is just good business.
From a moral perspective: I’ve always felt that it’s simply wrong to ignore those who have been less fortunate than we are. Many of us have earned our good fortune. However, we had no control over where we were born or who did or didn’t look after us as we grew. So, my wife and I have always thought about children first. Their circumstances are not their fault or their doing. It’s difficult for us to enjoy our good fortune without knowing that we are giving something back and helping these children who are in dire need of our help. So, while BetterHumanRace.com is helping our community have an outlet to help those in need, it is really a great outlet for us as well. We enjoy our lives much more knowing that we’re dedicating so much time, and our own money, to a cause that we believe can have a great, positive impact on the world for many years to come.
5. What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
My experience has been far more as an entrepreneur than as a philanthropist, so I learned some lessons early on in this endeavor. What I learned very quickly is that transparency is perhaps the most critical element in any philanthropic endeavor. This includes transparency about precisely how incoming money flows, what happens when it gets where it is going (specifically who benefits and how), how decisions are made, and essentially anything that people need to know in order to feel comfortable that your endeavor is genuine. With recent events like the Madoff scandal, everyone is reminded that it’s not only difficult to fully trust another, but sometimes dangerous.
Fortunately, with BetterHumanRace.com, we are not asking for donations, so there is no real danger. However, it is just as important to share with people exactly why we do what we do, precisely how our profits will be distributed, and the precise impacts those donations are having on people who are in need. We have disclosures on our website with this information, and we will be expanding the sections showing the precise impacts we are having.
Name: Ross Shanken
Title: President & Founder
Company: BetterHumanRace.com, Inc.