Philanthropy and green tend to go hand in hand because they’re both rooted in consciousness — for the planet and for the people who inhabit it. And as I attempt to highlight in this series, it’s not only perfectly acceptable for profit to be part of that equation, but it actually helps sustain those conscious activities in the long-term by making a difference that extends far beyond just dollar donations. To help crystallize my ongoing quest to define for-profit philanthropy and carve out a scalable blueprint for repeating it across verticals, I connected with Rajeev Kapur, founder of Greenwala.com, a social network dedicated to promoting a green lifestyle and the collective good.
A highly targeted community of environmentally-minded members, Rajeev is able to tap into motivated users to extend the reach for the non-profits he supports, facilitating an ongoing network of awareness and change for important social issues and causes. Plus, it serves as a comprehensive resource on all things green from eco-products to renewable energy to volunteering and activism. Each user represents an opportunity to make a difference, and Rajeev has many initiatives in place to make that an everyday occurrence.
1. How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
In my view, for-profit philanthropy is another way of showcasing a company’s triple bottom line or corporate social responsibility story. At its core, for-profit philanthropic-focused companies give back a percentage of their profits to causes that align with their values. What you are starting to see now in emerging new businesses like Greenwala is business plans tied to social entrepreneurship to drive the top and bottom line success of the venture. Established companies are starting to realize that if they embrace corporate social responsibilities, they will create a more loyal brand and user base. At the end of the day, people want to make sure that the brands/products they purchase align with their values.
2. Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
Currently, we have two non-profit programs that are both related to tree planting. Our first program is Treewala.com – where people can answer eco-friendly related questions; for every twenty questions they answer correctly, Greenwala will plant a tree.
Our second program is simpler. For every new member who joins the Greenwala site, we will plant a tree as well. We’ve partnered with the non-profit Trees for the Future for our fulfillment.
In mid-June, we will be launching a contest platform that will also support various causes (non-profits). The purpose of the platform is to allow us to partner with brands that want to reach a green audience through a fun and engaging process. Every contest will have a prize. Each contest will also support a non-profit of either the brand’s choice or one of our partner non-profits. The non-profit will receive a matching prize donation from the brand. So in other words, if a brand sponsors a contest where the winner will receive $500, then the non-profit will also receive $500. We look at this as a win-win-win-win solution. The brand wins because they are telling a social responsibility story and funding the prize money. Obviously, the winner wins and is happy to receive their prize. The non-profit wins because they receive free promotion and a dollar amount that they otherwise would not get. We, Greenwala, win because we help facilitate this effort.
3. How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
On Treewala.com people can see a counter of trees planted from the treewala homepage. We are still working with our other partner to best showcase the tree planting efforts via members joining the community on Greenwala. Once the contest platform is launched and monies have been disbursed, we will showcase the individual winner as well as the non-profit that was selected to receive the matching prize money.
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
I think it allows companies to show consumers that they care about more than just their bottom line. By leveraging philanthropy as part of one’s business model, you create connections and loyalties to consumers that will help you in not just spreading your brand message, but also in seeing incremental top line gains through word-of-mouth viral messages from consumers who will champion the company’s efforts. It allows for a bit more transparency, and a small but important competitive advantage.
5. What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
There are five key things to a successful philanthropic endeavor.
Don’t use it to mask damage your organization has done or is still doing.
You must be willing to be totally transparent to people when they ask you about your efforts. It’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you are correcting those mistakes, and being open about them.
Don’t lie; in this space especially, it’s easy for people to verify your story.
Assign someone from your company to be the champion of this program. This person should come from HR or finance and tie into marketing.
Don’t be shy. Talk openly about your program. Tell people what you are doing to make it better. Elicit advice from customers and business partners for future programs. Be proactive within the social media community and show that at the heart of it, you are trying to do the right thing.
At the end of the day, for-profit philanthropy is all about doing the right thing. I tell companies that I consult with or at talks I’ve given on the subject that as a member of society, I would much rather you at least try to do the right thing than do nothing at all.
Name: Rajeev Kapur
Title: Founder and Chief Wala