As someone who’s committed to giving back, and who also writes a blog series spotlighting change agents, I often seek out kindred spirits whose work is truly making a difference in the world. And I’ve been fortunate to connect with cause innovators like Lee Fox, Andy Sternberg, Joe Waters, Michael Hoffman, Scott Henderson, Chris Noble, Joey Leslie and Brian Powell. I was going to end that sentence with “to name a few,” but wow, that’s a lot! And I could rattle off at least a dozen others, but that would prolong getting to the philanthropic superwoman I am proud to feature today.
Sloane Berrent is by far one of the most amazing individuals you’ll ever encounter (and she may actually be the first genetically-engineered social change cyborg). Literally everything she does is focused on good — not only seeing it in the world and sharing her infectious inspiration with everyone around her, but truly embodying the change we all wish to see. The ultimate “doer,” she has worked tirelessly to help nonprofits achieve their mission through her philanthropic consulting, and spent the spring working in New Orleans as part of the ongoing Katrina efforts. If you were following her on Twitter at the time, her voice carried far above the social noise as she shared vivid and touching moments of her experience in the trenches, rebuilding and connecting with those devastated by the hurricane. So it wasn’t surprising when she was selected as part of the Kiva Fellows program, which will bring her to the Phillipines to fill the next chapter in an autobiography worth of good. If there’s a cause in need or a change-related activity, chances are you’ll run into Sloane. Or if she’s not there, just reach out to her, and you can bet she’ll be on the next boat, plane, train or intergalactic spacecraft to lend a helping hand.
1. How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
I would take out the “for-profit” part entirely. I think philanthropy and wanting to give back to those less fortunate and making our society more sustainable and conscious of our environment is part of human nature. I believe most people come from a place of “yes.” Meaning that when prompted to help someone who needs our help, we say yes. We want to help. The issue comes not from the “want” but in the execution, in the act of knowing how to give back and in following through with those actions. That is my mission. Helping people and companies find not just the”why” but the “how.” By separating the for-profit and the non-profit worlds, we assume that their goals are so different or that the people who work for them are so different when in fact, working together and creating compelling co-branded campaigns is the wave of the future and where the industries have to go to stay competitive. Philanthropy is now simply “good business.” And good business is providing a better way of live for ourselves that we can in turn provide a better life for our families and our communities, thus creating a sustainable business cycle.
2. Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
Currently, my main platform is to reach people through my blog, The Causemopolitan. The tag line is “Reflections on social entrepreneurship, philanthropy and how to live a cause-filled life.” By opening up the window into my own life and how I give back while also providing examples that I see around the web and around my own networking circles, I look to inspire others to find ways to give back, too. To that extent, merging together my nonprofit fundraising experience and social media background, I create high-level social action campaigns for for-profit and non-profit companies. It’s imperative to look at the convergence of how online business and interactions facilitate offline experiences. It’s incredibly valuable that one not exist without the other and conveying that message to businesses is a particular tactic that I focus on.
My business, however, is currently on hold because I am headed into the field for a three-month Fellowship with Kiva.org. Kiva is a leader in peer-to-peer based lending and I have been placed at one of their field partners, a microfinance institution in the Philippines, Ahon sa Hirap, Inc. (ASHI). As a Fellow, I have a full work plan of deliverables that I have to provide to Kiva including building the relationship with ASHI, writing borrower profiles and journal updates, verifying borrowers in the field and providing technical expertise and sustainability practices for the MFI. I am a passionate believer in entrepreneurship, especially around business opportunities for women in developing countries as a model for eradicating global poverty and I’m really thrilled and honored to have this experience to see the effects of microfinance and microlending first-hand — and to be representing Kiva.
Other charitable activities include being a board member for a wonderful theater company in Los Angeles, Echo Theater Company and being very actively involved with Step Up Women’s Network, in the Speaker’s Bureau for Heal the Bay and actively involved in my alumni organizations at the elementary, secondary and collegiate level. I’m also really passionate about building community, and so while these are my legacy nonprofits, I can often be found offering my services to other nonprofits that really inspire me and that I believe “get it.” Get their donors, get how to cultivate money, get how to move from ideation to activation without being buried by red-tape and bureaucracy.
I recently spent two months in New Orleans working with nonprofits there and immersing myself in New Orleans culture to figure out the best way that I could give back. One nonprofit there that I can’t stop talking about is 9th Ward Field of Dreams , an amazing initiative to build a football/soccer/public track in the 9th Ward, the first to be rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina almost four years ago. They are actively soliciting their last $500k this summer in order to break ground in the fall and if anyone is looking for a way to help in the the continued revilatilization of New Orleans, I urge you to contact them or contact me and I can pass along your information.
3. How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
I communicate through my blog, The Causemopolitan and while I’m in the Philippines, I’ll also be blogging on the Kiva Fellows blog and adding videos to the Kiva Fellows YouTube channel. I also use Twitter and Facebook a lot to communicate. The fellowship is unpaid and I recently had to raise $7,500, and I did so almost exclusively through my blog, Twitter and Facebook and was able to raise the entire amount in one month exactly. That’s a pretty powerful message for the possible impact of social media on social good. Being a web 2.0 early adopter, I can be found on most other social networks as well including LinkedIn, FriendFeed, Flickr, YouTube and Tumblr.
I really enjoy connecting with people online. I have found some of the most passionate, engaged, educated and inspiring people online and been thrilled to have the opportunity to meet many of them at conferences around the country or other events. It’s truly remarkable how technology can be used to build and sustain relationships — as long as there is a balance for finding and connecting with people offline.
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
The types of interactions both for-profits and non-profits want to have with each other today is different than it was 5-10 years ago. It used to be that a company made a flat donation to a nonprofit, sometimes anonymously and all they wanted in return was a thank you in the annual report and a table at the annual gala. These partnerships may or may not have been aligned with the mission of the company and may or may not have benefitted the non-profit beyond that single donation. With the rise of more responsible buying and use of purchasing power, both companies and non-profits want those partnerships to go further. These partnerships now have to be strategic and should have value to the consumer.
After all, the act of buying a good is very similar to the act of making a donation. Both require the purchaser to make a decision and press “buy” or “donate” with the main difference that donate comes only with a feeling. The two together create a model where people feel like they get both, a product or service and a feeling of giving back. Now that the public has spoken, those campaigns are what many of us look for and it’s what pushes the envelope and creates brand loyalty in a market filled with so much noise.
5. What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
Be authentic, transparent and sustainable in the conversation with consumers, stakeholders and employees. If you need help figuring out a nonprofit to partner with, run a campaign and ask one of those three groups to help you decide. Give people invested in you a change to feel ownership and like their voice matters. If you have a campaign and you mess up, say you messed up and find a way to fix it. I look around and I see companies just missing the mark or running a campaign without the results they desired and I think the worst thing for the market would be to try a campaign once, have it not perform up to par and throw up your hands and say “See, for-profit and non-profit can’t play together nicely in the sandbox.” We are writing the playbook as we go along. No one has all the answers, but we have to keep pushing in this direction. It’s where the market and the consumers are taking us. So be open about wanting to implement philanthropic endeavors and don’t be afraid to make mistakes your first time out of the gate.
Name: Sloane Berrent
Title: Philanthropy Matchmaker / Social Action Evangelist
Company: The Causemopolitan