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.
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.”
I’m typically skeptical when big corporations launch “green” initiatives, automatically assuming that their newfound eco-consciousness stance is an attempt to grab today’s earth-minded consumer, and elevate their brand in the process. And more often than not, that’s unfortunately the case, using causes and environmental issues to create the perception of social responsibility, while their commitment only goes as deep as their marketing budget. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I connected with Erin Carlson at Yahoo about the launch of their new Green Innovations initiative.
In my cause marketing series, I
rant communicate often about the critical need for businesses to ensure their philanthropic efforts are strategically aligned with core values over using it as a sleazy marketing tactic to fake consciousness. And I am continually searching for clever analogies to drive this point home as I believe it is the foremost tenet that must be upheld in implementing successful – and sustainable – cause initiatives: Authenticity. So, you can imagine my excitement when I saw the below tweet by Jennifer Rice the other day.
Bingo! The perfect analogy. It reminded me of my childhood when my mother would snicker at those she called “once a week Catholics” as they filed into church like the picture of piety when “doing good” for them was making a pitstop at mass on the way to the IHOP. But it’s the same principle as touting social responsibility while you engage in unfair labor practices (rhymes with Schmalmart) or claiming to be an eco-friendly corporation while you destroy the earth one overpriced, unrecyclable coffee cup at a time (ok, that one’s blatantly obvious).
Needless to say, I sought Jennifer out to spotlight, and get her insights on philanthropy as part of her values-based business model at Fruitful Strategy, a consulting firm that creates corporate social opportunity by aligning business strategy with social impact. Through her responses, she articulates the importance of ensuring that CSR is part of the fabric of your company and outlines the brand, stakeholder and customer benefits achieved with a well integrated campaign that’s built on a mission, not a marketing ploy.
Social media has opened the
door floodgates when it comes to causes getting the word out to consumers, but with the overwhelming amounts of information available online (and that’s an understatement), it’s often difficult to ensure message retention, or even that your issue will rise above the clutter as other organizations vie for attention. So, naturally some causes are employing video tactics in the hopes of creating an emotional connection with the viewer that will drive adoption and action. While video is also becoming increasingly saturated, the visual appeal can definitely help with exposure, and the right combination of messaging, music and a dash of marketing might do the trick in cultivating cause champions. At least that’s what Oxfam, a UK-based organization dedicated to generating awareness around important social and environmental issues, is hoping with their recent “Resuscitate the World” video in support of the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Summit.
As someone who spends a good amount of time on Twitter, I’ve had the great fortune of connecting with some truly amazing people, many of whom continue to educate me on cause marketing — sometimes without even realizing it. One such person is Cyan Banister, founder of Zivity, an online portfolio site for models, artists and musicians to share their body of work with fans, who basically backed into cause marketing at the request of her users, a few of whom wanted to donate the proceeds of their collections to various causes.
A socially minded entrepreneur, though she wouldn’t necessarily call herself a philanthropist, Cyan was already a champion for social change with a few causes that she supported personally. But she hadn’t considered building a cause platform into Zivity until she realized that her customers wanted it, and that the focus of the site in generating exposure for her models, artists and musicians could also serve as a prime vehicle for creating awareness around important causes and social issues that her users support.
Unlike most brands that arbitrarily select a high profile charity on which they hinge transactions, Zivity and its sister site, TopFans, hinge causes to real people (their users), creating a meaningful connection where sales is the byproduct, not the driver. The result is an authentic cause relationship between the company, its users and fans, all of whom become mutually invested in making a difference through various spotlighted charities. And through this organically generated effort, Zivity has achieved the critical balancing act between marketing the brand and the cause simultaneously while the charities take center stage.
I first connected with Scott Henderson on Twitter, where we became instant friends, united in championing cause marketing and trading insights around sustainable business. Since then, he has been a continual source of knowledge as someone who is perpetually plugged into the philanthropy market, quickly identifying and evaluating a company’s true commitment to the causes they support. A consciousness watchdog of sorts, intent on keeping cause marketers honest about their initiatives, Scott is not afraid to call out the culprits who employ it as a flavor-of-the-month tactic. Fundraising expert and cause innovator, Scott parlays his vast experience from gift officer of a $770+ million dollar compaign at the University of Nebraska Foundation to his current role as Director of Cause Marketing with Media Sauce in helping nonprofits and corporations use online media to pull off their next big thing. He also recently organized the Pledge to End Hunger campaign, where he successfully used social media to raise $28,000 for Share Our Strength. If it’s cause-related, philanthropy focused or sharp, results-driven strategy, chances are you’ll come across Scott Henderson. Or, if you’re being inauthentic in your cause marketing efforts, chances are, he’ll sniff you out.
In addition to promoting the concept of for-profit philanthropy, this series is designed to spotlight the amazing individuals who are creating new vehicles for change and innovating social good. One such individual, who is embarking on a journey to make taking social action easier, is John Brennan, creator of I’mDoingMyPart.org and winner of the Social Actions Change the Web Challenge for his live map of change activity around the globe.
Every moment of every day, somewhere in the world, people are volunteering, donating, signing petitions, making loans and doing other important social work. But before John Brennan came along, there was no way to visualize this change in progress. Using the Social Actions API, which aggregates social action data from over 50 nonprofit and change organization sources, John has created geographical context around that activity in the hopes of sparking people’s desire to join in.
His goal is to create a compelling presentation where people can be excited about all of the work that is happening around the world to make it a better place. “A person might discover an interest in helping others abroad and feel a connection with what they’re doing by seeing it on the map,” says John. “Seeing a real location plus picture plus the related action goes a long way!”
More often than not, it’s not a matter of finding people who want to do their part, but providing them with the resources for what needs to be done. John’s map technology allows people to connect tangibly with a cause or activity to drive the corresponding action. And if everyone does their part, more dots on the map could translate into less work needed because change will already be in motion across thousands of miles of oceans and terrain.
On the social web, the only thing that exceeds the number of social media “experts” and “gurus” out there are the number of names for those who practice it. From social media marketers to customer engagement specialists, everyone seems to be selling something. But while the term social marketing has nothing to do with social media, Nedra Weinrich is also selling something. . . good health, social issue awareness, disease prevention, environmental protection and safety. With her vast experience spearheading socially motivated programs focused on educating and engaging people around important health issues, she has developed a comprehensive blueprint for change that is both life-changing and life-protecting. I think that more than earns her a pithy, social media-esque title, and with how well she goes on to articulate the nuances of this important sub-set of cause marketing, she could easily be dubbed social marketing “swami.”
Yesterday, Zemanta, an application that suggests tags, links, photos, and related articles to enrich your blog based on keywords extracted from the text of your posts, launched its “Blogging for a Cause” campaign. Putting up $3,000 of their own money, Zemanta is asking bloggers to write about their favorite nonprofits, the top five of which get the most bloggers to endorse them, will receive the donation. The process is simple: write a post, embed a trackable link at the bottom for Zemanta to tally it as an official vote, and share the link with your friends and networks as you normally would in promoting your blog. Zemanta has also created badges that can be added to blogs or nonprofit websites in maximizing exposure around this initiative.
The Social Innovation Greenhouse at Weber Shandwick has also stepped in with a matching donation of Zemanta’s $3,000 pledge, and Zemanta is also seeking any other socially motivated entities who want to add to the pot, making this an even bigger opporunity to make a difference for the winning nonprofit.
The beauty of this initiative from a cause marketing standpoint is that it engages the blogosphere, who are able to reach the masses within their own sub-sets of the population, in generating significant exposure for the nonprofits they feature. And it won’t cost them a dime. Unlike most cause-related campaigns that are hinged on transactions, Zemanta has simply asked that bloggers do what they normally do. . . blog.
Service starts with an “S.” So does Sustainability.
Coincidence? I think not.
Consumerist.com, long regarded for its snarky commentary on business practices and marketing, has launched their annual “Worst Company in America” battle royale, whittling down from 32 companies to four, one of whom will be awarded this inauspicious honor. Among those vying for the title are Bank of America, Comcast, Ticketmaster, and AIG. At first blush, there aren’t really any surprises there. In one corner, you have AIG and Bank of America who have become surreptitiously synonymous with exorbitant compensation packages, reckless management, and of course, the dreaded tax payer bailouts. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ticketmaster and Comcast bring us monster monopolies where service is overlooked as customers are forced to deal with their “only game in town” mentality. Ever tried to get a live agent on the phone at Ticketmaster? You’d be more likely to get swine flu than a helpful customer service representative. And while Comcast has attempted to improve their notoriously poor customer service with their @comcastcares account on Twitter, Frank Eliason is just one man up against the 50 trillion* new users since Ashton Kutcher and Oprah joined the party. Probably not going to make a dent in transforming their image with the masses. You’d have better luck actually getting that wire transfer of a hundred million dollars from the Prince of Nigeria.
*may not be an actual stat
One of the primary benefits of a philanthropic business model is the ability to provide ongoing funds for nonprofit organizations. Fundraising is one of the most critical areas for nonprofits to be able to fuel their efforts in generating awareness of their cause, and affecting real change. Removing the need to fundraise so heavily allows organizations to re-allocate resources toward program implementation and volunteering with a steady steam of funds on which they can rely. But like any corporate giving or cause-related marketing campaign, there is no guarantee of ongoing support, and often, initiatives are geared toward several different organizations or causes over time, diluting the overall amount of funds any one nonprofit would receive.
In a unique twist on the concept of for-profit philanthropy, Cr8ing Digital Art, a web design firm in Pennsylvania, is launching an ecommerce site focused exclusively on building a brand new foundation called Be A Good Human that will focus on igniting good will through individuals, communities, and schools globally. The ecommerce end will be 100% focused on funding the Be A Good Human project, facilitating a turnkey — and permanent — flow of dollars to keep their efforts thriving through a percentage of all sales. Each retail division (apparel, books, etc.) will also then contribute a portion of the proceeds from their respective cost centers to established foundations with synergistic ties to the Be A Good Human iniatitives. This helps create partnerships, united around a specific cause, and will broaden reach and maximize the work that can be done in making a tangible difference through multiple, dedicated sources.
Unlike some cause marketing or ad hoc giving programs, their business is solely focused on building a vehicle for sustainable change that, through one singular foundation, can benefit many. You can’t put a price tag on consciousness, but you can on the purchases that trigger it. And the Be A Good Human project proves that you can spend wisely — and responsibly.
Last week I read a post on Environmental Leader about Microsoft slashing their CSR PR budget in favor of product promotion for Windows 7, Office and Xbox. While the cuts are currently in Europe, the post went on to say that Asia was next and that the U.S. would be “imminent.”
A budget cut in and of itself isn’t all that interesting — or newsworthy. Corporate budgets get cut all the time, and marketing and PR are typically the first to go, often regarded as extraneous spending by shareholders in mahogany boardrooms atop lofty ivory towers. But what’s interesting about this re-allocation of dollars is that they’re essentially shifting PR to… PR. Take a moment to let that sink in.
They’re taking money from PR efforts that help advance environmental awareness and social responsibility in a market in which they have mass reach to more heavily promote themselves and their own products. So, it begs the question if Microsoft is truly committed to sustainable business practices and furthering programs that serve the greater good, or if it is merely a PR tactic designed create the perception of social responsibility while their consumer capitalist agenda reigns supreme.
As the “green” buzz continues to become more mainstream, there is a staggering number of products, websites and communities popping up in an attempt to capitalize on today’s eco-conscious consumer. But the onslaught of information may actually be a deterrant to embracing a green lifestyle for novice consumers who are forced weed through overwhelming amounts of data with little knowledge around how to distinguish hype from fact, or even where to begin. Enter Green By Design, a new blog-slash-product-review-slash-ecommerce portal focused on connecting users with journalistic-quality green content and products that elevate eco-awareness, and reduce the barriers to adoption. Funded by Noribachi, a venture accelerator out of New Mexico, Green By Design aims to fill a very targeted segment of the green market. One that is dedicated to debunking green myths, providing top quality products that meet rigorous standards and deliver on their environmental claims, and guides and reference materials for successfully integrating sustainable practices into your daily life. Somewhat of a personal green advisor, Green By Design scours the eco-web and handpicks the stories, products and resources that make living sustainably simple. You might say it’s by design.
One of the primary goals of the Philanthropy in Five series is to feature companies who are committed to giving back, and serve as a framework for making social consciousness the standard way of conducting business.
In similar fashion (bad pun intended), Nicole D’Alonzo is launching Socolite.com, an online destination for spotlighting the philanthropic efforts and social innovations of local businesses and entrepreneurs in a fun, contemporary way. Her vision is to transform the idea of a socialite into a “socolite,” where being socially conscious, embracing a green lifestyle and being eco-aware are the height of style.
She refers to her concept as the web equivalent of a lounge where people can congregate to share goodwill, collaborate and use their collective power to make a difference in ways that are compelling, memorable and fashionable. From charity fundraisers to black-tie benefits to casual networking events, Nicole is chronicling these experiences through video and compiling documentaries to help inspire ongoing change, and shape a culture rooted in consciousness. In a society built on the concept of it being chic to spend, Nicole is showing that it’s chic to give. And that’s a cause that’s more than just a passing fad.