Today, 55 percent of global consumers say they are willing to pay more for a product or service from a company that is committed to positive social and environmental impact, according to Nielsen's 2014 Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility. That percentage has increased 10 percent in three years, and is expected to continue to grow, especially as Millennials accumulate more buying power.
[The Gravity Payments team]
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) models are varied, and can range from nonprofit partnerships to allocating a budget for employees to volunteer. When it comes to CSR, there’s no one-size-fits-all.
Below, we asked seven YEC members who have either incorporated a strong CSR program in their business model or are directly helping those that do, to share their best advice.
Before becoming a serial entrepreneur, Sam Davidson worked in the nonprofit sector. So when Davidson and his team started CPC and Batch, they were mindful of how their businesses could support the work of causes and charities. CPC not only helps connect people who want to do good with nonprofit organizations, but also sells t-shirts that raise money for causes and charities. Batch, a city-level subscription service that highlights local businesses and curated high-quality items, partners with charities in each city where subscriptions are offered. Through these partnerships, Batch helps local charities distribute food and other services to those in need.
Best CSR Tip: Be Transparent
“Be transparent. The worst thing you can do is to oversell the impact you're making or try and whitewash a cause initiative. Today, it's easy for customers to sniff out ‘cause-washing,’ when a brand tries a charity tie-in just for the press or marketing benefit. That's why at Batch, we pick a local charity in each city we operate related to food. The alignment is there (we get food to people; so do these nonprofits) and we donate money with each subscription batch we sell. We keep it simple and direct, and then trust the charity to do what they do best in each city.”
H.U.M.A.N.’s mission is to make healthy food more accessible than junk food. The vehicle: healthy micro markets and vending machines, with a franchise model to help scale growth. Through H.U.M.A.N.’s charitable arm, H.U.M.A.N. Everywhere, 10 percent of the company’s profits are donated to help fight the causes of obesity and malnutrition through nutrition-related education. This speaks to H.U.M.A.N. Everywhere’s Young Entrepreneurs Program, which integrates a H.U.M.A.N. vending program in underprivileged schools. Not only does this replace the school’s existing vending machines with healthier ones, but it also teaches students entrepreneurial skills — lean marketing, inventory, machine maintenance, technology, product purchasing, accounting, inventory management, etc. — by allowing selected students to run the vending program themselves. The school and kids keep 100 percent of the proceeds.
Additionally, H.U.M.A.N., a certified B Corp, donates one child nutrition pack to expecting mothers in third world countries for each product sold from H.U.M.A.N.’s Super HUMAN Snacks line. (Kelly’s newest project, SnackNation, also gives back using this Snack-for-Pack™ partnership model.)
Best CSR Tip: Don’t Worry About Being Perfect, Just Do It
“As Millennials, it's incredibly important that we are connected to a larger purpose that we can share with the people that we're close to and the people that we work with every single day....You’ve got to find your why, you’ve got to find that purpose. And then anything that you do, whether it's setting up your own charity, whether it’s working with another, whether it's committing that a certain portion goes towards this — it's really not about the money and it's not about the commitment. It's more about that connection to your purpose that everybody at your organization can feel.
So just do something. Make sure it's aligned with whatever you want your purpose to be and start somewhere...The only way that it really becomes powerful in your organization is if you consistently apply yourself to it and you consistently ask yourself what is our purpose, what are we doing today, this week, this month to make a difference, and again, connect to that compelling future.”
Tom Szaky, Founder & CEO at TerraCycle
Working with more than 100 brands in the U.S. and 22 countries, TerraCycle is an international upcycling and recycling company that collects difficult-to-recycle packaging and products, and repurposes the material into affordable, innovative products. A big part of TerraCycle’s model depends on raising consumer awareness, which Tom Szaky says is also one of the company’s challenges: “Getting through to consumers in a way that exacts habitual and behavioral change is a persistent challenge for us, because consumption is culturally ingrained in our society,” he says.
Best CSR Tip: Leverage Local-Level Partnerships to Expand Your Reach
“Developing and utilizing partnerships with major CPG companies like Colgate, Garnier, Capri Sun and others allows us to move into new markets much faster than other companies are often able. Our major partners in the U.S. are typically global players, so integrating programs into other countries can often be done quickly and easily. PepsiCo facilitated our first move to Brazil and Kraft Foods helped initiate our move to the UK. As a rule, we will only open in a new country if we have two brands committing to TerraCycle programs in that market. As we expand globally, we typically look for local partners, facilities and manufacturers with established infrastructures that we can utilize so we can more efficiently integrate ourselves into the market.”
Ministry of Supply (MoS), a retail experience for performance professional menswear that uses advanced manufacturing techniques, is taking two approaches to CSR. The Atlas for a Cause initiative donates all revenue from one of MoS’s bolder sock patterns to a cause they’re aligned with. For them, that’s Big Brothers, Big Sisters in Atlanta as the vehicle and STE(A)M education modules -- which provides students access to science, tech, engineering, arts and math resources -- as the event. The MoS team is exploring ways to make this more vertical.
MoS’s 1 In, 1 Out program asks customers who buy a new garment to send back a new or slightly used garment they’ll no longer be using (MoS pays for the shipping). MoS then takes those garments to a charity that aligns with MoS’s values — ones that prepare their audience for a productive, passion-filled career, like Goodwill, Career Gear or Boston Teen Challenge.
Best CSR Tip: It’s Not All or Nothing
“ It's not ‘all or nothing’ -- it’s possible to be a responsible company that makes a meaningful contribution to your community without that being the central or only point of your business. CSR is a responsibility, but doesn't have to be your only priority. It's a lot less overwhelming when you take this approach, knowing that you can phase it into your business and grow it as your capacity allows.”
“All of our efforts are put towards supporting small businesses and the communities they help shape. One way we can do that is by giving back to communities that have given so much to us.”
Dan Price created a CSR program at Gravity Payments, a credit card processing company that focuses on helping small businesses, called Gravity Gives. This not only helps support nonprofits, but also gives employees the resources needed to make an impact — on their own terms. How does it work? The company gives each employee $1K per year — an amount that increases for every year an employee is with Gravity — to give to any nonprofit of their choice. The Gravity team also volunteers regularly at local charities, helps run charitable campaigns, hosts in-office food and clothing drives, and serves holiday dinners at local shelters, among other things.
Best CSR Tip: Align Your Efforts With Your Company’s Mission
“First and foremost, I like being loyal to the people who are partnering with me to create what we’re creating. If there’s a way that you can support charities you’re passionate about that will also unify your team and your clients, then there’s a potential synergy that could make that interesting. The main thing I would advise somebody not to do is to not take more money out of your clients’ or your team's pockets in order to give it to a charity that only you’re passionate about.”
A certified B Corp, ThinkImpact was born to fulfill the mission of bringing social entrepreneurship to life through experiential education. Through its Institutes across three countries -- Rwanda, South Africa and Panama -- ThinkImpact allows students to not only experience the life and culture in a different part of the world, but create social impact by learning through collaboration. To do this, participants build a team and work together with locals to seek out opportunities within a community, formulate ideas on how to improve quality of life, and test those ideas in the field. In terms of local communities, ThinkImpact has generated more than 100 microenterprise ideas and has engaged more than 1,200 local entrepreneurs and community members. The program has also created more than 250 new jobs and has helped several dozen entrepreneurs get microloans.
Best CSR Tip: For Innovation, Introduce New Resources to Old Problems
“For many years I was raising money to build schools and water projects. While it probably did some good, I felt that the difference it made was insufficient to justify the cost and effort that went into it. I wanted to find a new approach, and in 2008 and 2009, I learned about social entrepreneurship and the idea of market-based solutions to poverty. This intrigued me because it was inherently sustainable and, to me, social enterprise was positioned to offer solutions where there was a market failure. I realized while doing work in communities that it wasn't just business creation that was needed, but exposure to new thinking on old problems. That is, by definition, innovation.”
Klickly helps brands with their CSR initiatives through social media by making it easier to give back. Whereas most cause-driven social content requires several steps to actually take action or donate, Klickly is a one-touch platform that enables people to quickly and easily connect with causes championed by their favorite brands, celebrities and nonprofits.
Best CSR Tip: Authenticity Matters
“Consumers are willing to open their wallets and give a little more for causes they believe in. But companies immediately hear ‘consumers are willing to pay more,’ and they skip over the crucial part about real commitment and positive impact. As CSR campaigns are being used not only as a way to manage reputation, but also as a growth driver, platform for innovation, and way to reach Millennials, the risk that they fail drastically in all areas because they’re not actually authentic is a real threat. The key to developing a successful campaign that will drive the bottom line and grow engagement is true authenticity. Choose a cause or causes that you as a company truly feel passionately about, that your brand properly aligns with, and one that appeals to your core consumer.”