By Jeff Snyder
From the smallest of children to the most powerful of CEOs, we're all dreamers. I dreamt of creating an agency built around people — one that put more good into the world than it took for itself.
But life had an interesting way of making my fantasy feel incredibly petty — by introducing cancer into the equation.
Who was I to dream? My courageous 2-year-old daughter, Kennedy, had just been diagnosed with a spinal cord tumor. She was braving chemo, longing to play outside and just be a kid. My dreams couldn't do anything to help her — or so I thought.
As Kennedy was battling cancer, I became increasingly close with Jay and Liz Scott, who had lost their daughter, Alex, to the battle with cancer. As a baby, Alex was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, and at 4, she started her own lemonade stand to benefit cancer research. This tiny girl created just the sort of company I had in mind. Every day, in spite of her illness, she served customers to make the world a brighter place.
Despite their own personal tragedy, Jay and Liz continued to support their daughter's mission by starting the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation. Motivated by their story and fueled by my daughter's resilience in battling cancer, I decided it was time to create the agency I'd dreamt of, and I decided to use it to make a difference for Kennedy and all the children fighting for their lives.
We began as just a few employees serving even fewer clients. It forced us to think about what made us different. Well, beyond years of marketing experience — which any agency can claim — we had this cause.
When seeking clients to launch our business, we found that they gravitated to our mission, and they continue to do so today. But simply being associated with a cause isn't enough. We've embraced it, and it has changed our ethos and the very way we do business. Just as Alex's cause gave her energy to sell lemonade despite her illness, it encourages us to go the extra mile to deliver on client promises.
Business leaders aren’t the only ones who are drawn to a cause. Our mission has brought young, ambitious employees to the door — ones who value fulfillment above a fatter paycheck. Nearly 8 in 10 members of America's largest demographic want to work for a socially-conscious employer, and I'm proud to say we've had plenty sign up to work our stand.
When determining how best to give back, we asked ourselves four questions:
1. What's our recipe for good?
When you just started out, what were your pie-in-the-sky promises — your founding principles? Find a cause that speaks to your company's values, and you'll set the foundation for a solid partnership.
The ingredients that drove Inspira and Alex's Lemonade Stand together were passion, optimism and a fighting spirit. Much like our agency, the Foundation didn't start with much, but its scrappiness helped it garner awareness and relative success.
In a way, we're both underdog stories. That’s why the partnership works — an organization that knows the proverbial end of the tunnel is far away yet charges toward it just the same. Alex's Lemonade Stand won't defeat childhood cancer overnight — perhaps not even in its founders' lifetimes — but that will never stop it from trying.
2. Can we give more than money?
The reality is that anyone can fundraise or write a check. But unique skills — including event coordination and content creation — can benefit a cause for years to come.
To help Alex's Lemonade Stand, we leveraged our marketing know-how in every which way. Whether it's through tapping into our client network for donations, using our vendor partners to create materials, or just volunteering our time and efforts for Alex's events, we try to do more than just provide monetary support.
And perhaps our biggest contribution is starting the Warriors for a Cure team in support of Alex's Million Mile. Based locally, our team has helped garner hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of the Foundation by creating a movement and amplifying its story.
3. Will the team work the stand?
In her neighborhood, Alex was an unapologetic challenger — a tiny fish in a huge pond. That's what it felt like at Inspira in the early days. Marketing is a cutthroat world, and we're a scrappy little agency from Connecticut. That's why our union works.
Remember that this isn't about you. If your team doesn't see itself reflected in the partner, your efforts will fail, no matter how noble they are. To brew a sweet, successful partnership, choose a cause that resonates throughout the company, not just within your heart.
4. What do we hope to receive in return?
It's okay to think selfishly for a moment. How are you hoping this cause will strengthen your company? A transaction doesn't have to be a bad thing. View it as a promise. Your company will give back, hoping the generosity will instill tenacity in your team or create a culture of camaraderie. I know my team's work with Alex's Lemonade Stand has given us all that and much more.
Upon founding Inspira, I swore I'd repay the world that's given me so much — for Alex, for Kennedy and for all the children fighting terrible diseases. So I challenge you: Be more for yourself, for your employees and for those in need. I can attest that the juice is worth the squeeze.
Image credit: Flickr/RachaelChickswithKnives
Jeff Snyder is the founder and chief inspiration officer at Inspira Marketing Group, an experiential marketing agency headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut, with offices in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. With more than 20 years of experience, Snyder leads his agency's growth by focusing on building genuine relationships through client development and audience engagement.