Marketing Sustainability Through Giving: How to Leverage a Community Movement

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Claire Williams

Stress, anxiety, overwork, bad pay, multitasking, constant busyness, a culture of doing, economic instability… these are just some of the major afflictions affecting many American workers today.  The economic collapse has affected the global landscape giving way to a further conversation around sustainability from the personal to the professional and planetary scale.  This conversation is a lively one at Presidio Graduate School, where I am a student.

As an MBA student at Presidio with a career in non-profit management and foundation in yoga teaching, I often wonder how the sustainability movement can further influence personal sustainability for those who feel that they have lost a sense of purpose and meaning in the world today?  Well, who are some of the biggest influencers in business?  Marketing departments in fact.

I seek to apply a community giving movement to a social marketing strategy that could do wonders for the area of personal sustainability, community connection and on up to the level demonstrating corporate social responsibility.

The book that sparked this movement is Cami Walker’s 29 Gifts—a powerful story of transformation through giving.  The Oxford Dictionary defines gratitude as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” It’s a state of being regarding how to transform resistance into thankfulness.

Walker’s book tells her own story. At 33 she was a successful advertising professional and a newlywed. But just a month after her wedding, she was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis. Walker quickly found herself very sick and deeply depressed, facing what felt like insurmountable challenges. When she called on her friend and healer for some much-needed sympathy, Mbali Creazzo gave her a unique prescription: She encouraged her to give away 29 gifts in 29 days. Creazzo told her, “by giving, you are focusing on what you have to offer others, inviting more abundance into your life.” Reluctantly Walker started the challenge, and soon experienced greater abundance and increased physical and mental health. She hasn’t stopped giving since and, as a result, she’s created a strong movement with nearly 14,000 others in 42 countries taking on the same feat.

The challenge is simple: give one thing away every day for 29 days. You can give anything to anyone: money, food, used clothing, smiles, time, kind words, positive thoughts, prayers, or anything else. Last year, I took on the challenge and inspired 10 of my friends to join me. Participating in this process with friends was a gift in and of itself, generating a deeper connection between us all.

You might ask: how can this movement be applied to a social marketing campaign?  Social marketing furthers a cause and in this case- focusing energy outward on supporting others as a way to inspire more generosity and kindness in the world. As we seek to understand and truly embody positive change for our world as sustainability leaders, we have to empower ourselves to do something to create that change. This 29 Gifts movement already has an active community of 14,000 members where community connection is thriving through their website and use of social media.  Companies could begin to leverage this model to create giving months to benefit their employees, communities and marketing for the company.

The inspirational stories of people like 29 Gifts author, Walker, and others like Aron Ralston and Nelson Mandela, who turn adversity into advantage, remind me that the real depth and sweetness of the human spirit comes from the transformation of moving beyond our own story to offer ourselves to others. I’ll leave you with a reminder from my high school motto: “What we keep we lose and only what we give remains our own.”  I encourage you to take the 29-Day Giving Challenge to see the impact you create inside of and around you in your communities and companies to further support this cause.

I am curious to hear what you think of the application of this organized movement to social marketing strategies?  Do you see an opportunity for synergy here?

Check out an interview with Cami Walker by blogger Britt Bravo for the Big Vision Podcast

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