This series focuses on all of the companies who have adopted philanthropy as part of their business model, and spotlights their efforts as a way to help shift the paradigm toward adopting a socially responsible mission. One common element I’ve observed is that many companies dilute their giving by opting to support a multitude of charities rather than focusing on one, where they can concentrate their efforts — and profiits — toward tangible change. While the intent to help as many charities as possible is a noble one, it is not the most sustainable option if the end goal is to make a significant impact. It’s for this same reason that I recommend to companies that their cause marketing be tightly aligned with their business instead of randomly selecting flavor-of-the-month charities.
Ehlers Estate is emblematic of this concept, representing the fusion of a for-profit winegrowing estate, environmental consciousness and international philanthropy. The winery’s diverse Napa Valley vineyard is cultivated using organic and biodynamic farming techniques to produce exceptional Bordeaux-varietal wines, and all proceeds from the sale of these wines fund international cardiovascular research through the Leducq Foundation. While they are unique in that 100% of the profits are used toward philanthropy, the manner in which they’ve wholly integrated the cause with their business practices, from operations through marketing, can be effectively reproduced in profit-based companies.
The “secret sauce” in all of these types initiatives is to stand for something and support it fully in all you do — from internal communications with employees and stakeholders to external engagements with customers. You don’t have to donate all of your revenue to charity as Ehlers Estate does, but you do have to select and nurture a mission that is the embodiment of an authentic commitment to social responsibility, and is exemplified in all you do. At the end of the day, it’s all about walking the walk. Talk is not only cheap; it’s sour grapes.
1. How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
Our winery, Ehlers Estate, is a for-profit business that is held in trust by Fondation Leducq, which in turn is a not-for-profit entity that funds international cardiovascular research. This is a philanthropic relationship that is unique in the world of wine. It is also a testament to the vision of our founder, Jean Leducq. Making exceptional wines was one of Jean Leducq’s great passions, and Ehlers Estate exists to honor his memory and his commitment to both fine California wine and cardiovascular research. The great thing about our relationship with Fondation Leducq, and our philanthropic mission is that it informs everything we do. For our team, there is a fundamental connection between social responsibility and quality. Our success as a winery, which is all about quality, lets us be more successful from a philanthropic standpoint. Because we know that 100 percent of our net income will be used by Fondation Leducq to support their efforts to advance cardiovascular research, we all strive to be as profitable as possible.
2. Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
This is quite simple! We sell fantastic Napa Valley wines made exclusively using grapes from our historic Napa Valley estate vineyard. In addition to being certified organic, our vineyard is also farmed biodynamically – practices that ensure that our wines authentically reflect the depth and character of our land. All of the profits from the sale of these wines directly benefit the philanthropic mission of Fondation Leducq. Our current charitable activities are focused primarily on our commitment to the Fondation Leducq, with some side support to the American Heart Association through wine donations, and some local support for St. Helena education.
3. How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
Our main vehicle for communicating our mission is through our relationships with our customers. They are the most engaging and authentic ambassadors for what we do. As part of this emphasis, visitors to our winery are well informed about our ownership and our philanthropic work, and our trade partners are also apprised of this unique business model. We also work with our PR firm, J.A.M. PR, to help get the message out.
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
Like many businesses, the wine industry is extremely competitive. And while we didn’t embark on our philanthropic mission to strengthen our business, in many ways it has made us stronger. For customers, our philanthropic work adds value to our wines. Not only are they world-class Napa Valley wines, they are wines people can feel genuinely good about buying. It also becomes a motivation for our employees to feel more invested in our company by working harder, and with more passion. Finally, our philanthropy is part of a cohesive philosophy, which extends to our desire to be good stewards of our coveted vineyard. Because of our unique ownership, we are able to embrace and excel at all these core values.
5. What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
Have a legitimate and well-defined goal for disbursement of revenue. Fondation Leducq has been steadfast in their mission to support international cardiovascular research, despite endless opportunities to invest in a kaleidoscope of other, often well-deserving entities. The Fondation board and Sylviane Leducq (Jean’s widow), have continued to refine and improve their mission to fund cardiovascular research. As a result, they have earned the highest regard from the medical community, and have been able to do important work towards resolving some of medicine’s most daunting questions.
Name: Kelly McElearney
Title: Director of Sales and Marketing
Company: Ehlers Estate