Social enterprise isn’t just a business option. It’s becoming the only option.
That statement shouldn’t make you nervous — in fact, quite the opposite. If you’re just getting acquainted with social enterprise, welcome! This is a particularly exciting time for business-minded people who also care about doing some good. Why? Because more and more each year, consumers only want to buy from people like you.
To put it quite simply, the days of Scrooge-y, exclusively greed-fueled business are largely over. Thanks in large part to the internet, the public is more informed than ever about who’s making their products and where the profits are going. And they aren’t taking that valuable intel lightly. They’re using it, and they’re convincing their friends and family and coworkers to use it, too.
We all know the classic archetype of a CEO — the stuffy, suited-up movie villain who will make any business decision just to improve the bottom line. But in this transparent new world, any individual living a high and mighty lifestyle is now subject to extreme scrutiny, particularly from the younger generations, who don’t exhibit the same brand loyalty that their parents did thirty years ago. They’re more than happy to permanently drop a company whose practices — or those of its leadership — don’t align with their personal values.
Not so long ago, companies that “gave back” stood out. Installing a philanthropic arm to a profit-driven organization was seen as a bold and admirable move. Today, the companies that stand out are the ones that don’t give back. It’s actually puzzling to consumers when a business doesn’t have some sort of initiative toward public good. And that puzzlement turns to actual outrage when consumers discover that a business utilizes unethical or harmful practices behind closed doors. Who hasn’t seen those viral Twitter boycotts? They can damage a brand both in the short- and long-term. In some cases, they can run an entire business into the ground: American Apparel, now bankrupt, never fully overcame the backlash after the world learned of disturbing behavior by its CEO.
I like to sum it up in three words: Give a damn. You already give a damn about your money, your investments, your company and its future. But today’s smartest, most savvy executives and entrepreneurs give a damn beyond their own worlds. They give a damn about the world at large. The change they want to see isn’t just in their own pockets.
It starts with choosing a cause. Not just any cause, but one that feels personal for you, and one that will feel consistent with your company. For me, it’s empowering young women. I’ve always been passionate about it, and even through more stressful days on the business end, knowing that I’m also doing public good through 1,000 Dreams Fund gives that extra motivation to keep working. It also allows me the opportunity to partner up with other brands and companies we’ve worked with like Charles Schwab and tech company HARMAN that care deeply about on focus on raising up the next generation of female leaders, creating a mutually beneficial relationship.
So think: What issues, causes, platforms really speak to you? And from that list, which ones could you appropriately integrate into the fabric of your company? One mistake that’s often made is choosing a philanthropic cause that doesn’t quite fit with the brand or product. You have to use some logic — and maybe even bounce the idea off a few trusted people outside the company to gauge their reactions.
The world is changing quickly, and although it’s messy, the vast majority of people want to see positive change. They know that their money is a form of validation, and they want to spend it in ways that feel “right.” Your company needs to fall into that category. So start brainstorming, and begin cultivating a team that can bring your philanthropic mission to life. You’ll see positive results — both within and beyond your earnings.
This is a guest post by Christie Garton. Garton is an award-winning social entrepreneur, author and CEO of the 1,000 Dreams Fund (1000dreamsfund.org), a social enterprise which works to empower young women in the U.S. through scholarships and life-changing advice. Christie is the author of the best-selling college guidebook for women, U Chic: College Girls’ Real Advice for Your First Year (& Beyond!) (4th Edition, Sourcebooks 2015) and co-author of Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever (AMACOM 2013).