If you’ve spent any time on the social web, you’ve probably come across Geoff Livingston, marketing strategist, communicator and PR pro with a no nonsense approach to business. He’s best known for his decisive commentary on the social media space at The Buzz Bin, recognized by the Washington Post as one of the top ranked marketing blogs in the region, and co-author of the book, “Now is Gone,” a primer on new media for executives and entrepreneurs. Signature photos of him atop his trusty motorcycle are likely a close second! But above all, Geoff is known for getting things done, and is using his power for good in igniting social change for clients and advising nonprofits on harnessing technology to advance their causes. He has also been working with Qui Diaz and Beth Kanter on the concept of Philanthropy 2.0, and recently published the results of their Social Media for Social Causes Study.
For all these reasons, I thought Geoff would be the perfect person to comment on the recent market shift toward a more philanthropic enterprise model as part of this series, but the following quote cinched the deal for me:
“Corporate America has come under the spotlight for immoral behavior. Americans are tired of profiteering and empty promises to our communities. In the 21st century, companies have to do more. Philanthropic intent must be backed with action.”
1. How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
Business. I suppose it’s hard to say you’re for profit and philanthropic.
I understand the socialprise model of this, and am working with a couple of organizations that are organized that way. Socialprise for me is the best way to describe the for-profit philanthropic organization because it clearly delineates that the organizations seeks to achieve some sort of positive outcome. I think it’s an interesting model, but I would also ask is it really for profit, or an incorporation that seeks to operate in the black as a not for profit?
There’s a lot of semantics at play, some of which are legal, all of which can be very confusing for the marketplace. As a former business owner, if a company is truly philanthropic in nature, I would encourage them not to use the words for profit, and communicate their non 501c3 organizational structure in a different way.
2. Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
Currently, I run the social media division for CRT/tanaka. We have some legacy social cause business and foundation work from my old company, Livingston Communications. Livingston had some serious social cause business with Save Darfur, United Way, Philanthropy 2.0, and we intend to keep that track moving forward with new clients like the Campus Kitchens Project.
Personally, I am highly active serving as Strategic Advisor for Social Media, Live Earth, as a board member on the Cultural Development Corporation, and as a Fellow with the Society of New Communications Research. In addition, I run a not-for-profit education-oriented conference for the DC marketplace called BlogPotomac, I teach Soical Media for Social Good at Georgetown University, and I also engage in lots of social media discussion on philanthropy to try and disseminate best practices.
3. How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
We don’t necessarily do that. We just do the work to the best of our ability, and publicly support our cause members whenever and however they want us to. Often, they want to leverage some of our notoriety with blog posts or reports, but in reality, it’s about them, not us. I still have a strong feeling that social media communicators talk too much about themselves, and don’t focus enough on their clients’ — even the philanthropic ones — public success.
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
Because America is sick of getting hijacked by profit-driven public companies. Companies are comprised of people, and people are part of their community. As aggregators of community wealth, it is Corporate America’s duty to us — it’s citizens, creators and supporters — to give back. We must see public action being taken by companies because without such actions the fiber of our society is challenged and weakened.
From an image standpoint, this is needed, too. Increasingly people will not accept the modern robber barons. What’s unfortunate is that it took people acting with their wallets to get executives to finally steer their companies in the right direction.
5. What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
Authenticity. Don’t sell a T-shirt and donate part of the proceeds. Do it and do it right. Increasingly, I see companies getting smart about this and creating philanthropic programs that either meet their core mission (for example, a client, the Charles Schwab Foundation promotes financial literacy, a pretty serious issue in this debt ridden time).
The other smart thing I see is companies that are engaging their customers or employees and letting them choose the social action that works best for them. The DonorsChoose/Staples program is a great example of this, and I know more and more companies are looking at this kind of model as well.
Name: Geoff Livingston
Title: Senior Vice President