Would you give away half your company’s inventory? Would you write off a percentage of your revenue? How about spending hard-earned profits on people who will never, ever become your customers?

At a glance, these ideas sound like pages from the Chapter 11 playbook. But many brands and specialty retailers are finding success in this approach. In a crowded and commoditized marketplace, a giving program can be a key differentiator. We spoke with three companies that are redefining the way they do business by focusing on the business of doing good. Outdoor brands Osprey Packs, MiiR, and Proof Eyewear have each put charitable programs at the core of their business models. Here, they share what they’re doing, how it impacts their business, and why you should join them.  

Great Old Broads for Wilderness, courtesy Osprey Packs Inc.

Great Old Broads for Wilderness, courtesy Osprey Packs Inc.

CONSUMERS EXPECT MORE FROM YOU

Today’s consumers are highly informed and extremely selective with the companies they choose to support. They use their dollars to make purchases, but also as tools foradvocacy.

Sam Mix, Conduit of Corporate Outreach for Osprey Packs, Inc. remarks,In today’s reputation economy, what we stand for as a business may be just as important as what we design, manufacture, and sell. I feel that today’s consumer expects good corporate citizenship and values the efforts Osprey puts forth.”

Sunglasses manufacturer Proof Eyewear has had a similar understanding of their reputation. They’ve been focused on showing consumers the power of their wallets. “The customer response to our Do Good projects is always incredibly humbling. I think it plays a huge role in our success,” says Keara Donick, Proof’s PR + Marketing Director, “because it is a piece that people can really latch on to and see the effects of.”

Proof Eyewear's Uganda Project, photo by Cristi Dame

Proof Eyewear's Uganda Project, photo by Cristi Dame

YOU CAN MAKE A REAL IMPACT

Companies are moving beyond the now-ubiquitous buy-one, give-one model. Instead of simply gifting product, they are building programs that create significant, long-term impact on people’s lives. In some cases, they’re building their businesses around the cause.

Since their founding in 1974, Osprey Packs has made corporate philanthropy part of its DNA. One of their many initiatives is an industry-only Pro-Deal Donation Program that donates $2 from each purchase to a diverse range of non-profits. This program has the potential to donate $14,000-$16,000 annually. Since they’ve  been running many such programs for decades, the impact over time is huge.

Seattle startup MiiR gives 5% of top line revenue to trackable projects (that’s revenue, not profit). Their projects provide access to clean water, transportation, and education to people in need at home and abroad. Since 2009, they’ve given over $375,000 to national and international projects. 

Proof Eyewear has donated tens of thousands of dollars to various causes, including the hosting of eye clinics around the world which have given vision back to countless people. It’s the kind of giving that has immediate, life-changing outcomes.

Proof Eyewear's Uganda Project, photo by Travis Burke

Proof Eyewear's Uganda Project, photo by Travis Burke

YOU CAN ALIGN YOUR BUSINESS WITH YOUR MISSION

Today’s philanthropic companies have broken away from a revenue-only mission statement. Their missions include serving a need, so they reverse engineer their business model to serve that need.

Such is the case for Proof, whose mission from the onset was to prove it’s possible to benefit people and places around the globe, and to do so through the sale of products made from natural materials. Giving isn’t an add-on, it’s the whole point.

MiiR’s giving program can be traced down to each individual product they sell. Every product is individually tied to a trackable clean water and health project through a unique Give Code. Customers can track their support through a unique Give Code, and follow along as the project develops. As their product assortment grows, the giving program scales in tandem, pulling from a collective giving pool to fund various projects. “MiiR could never be just a product company or just a giving company or non-profit. They work together hand in hand,” says Bryan Papé, Founder and CEO of MiiR.

IT CAN IMPROVE YOUR BOTTOM LINE

These philosophies aren’t about high-minded, feel-good pop psychology. These companies see a direct correlation between giving, branding, and growth.

Mix sees the results at Osprey on a regular basis. “The benefits of a strong, recognized, and authentic corporate philanthropy program far outweigh the costs. Osprey’s example that other businesses could follow would be to focus where we all focus most, which is the bottom-line—the importance of such programs not only to fulfill needs where they exist but also support their business goals as a brand.”

The benefits extend to customer loyalty and retention as well. “Often times we hear customers say at first they thought MiiR was too good to be true,” says Papé. “Our customers love the fact that we are transparent about how we give.”

Outdoor Afro Leadership Summit, courtesy Osprey Packs Inc.

Outdoor Afro Leadership Summit, courtesy Osprey Packs Inc.

THE BUSINESS OF DOING GOOD

When consumers see the impact their purchases have, it validates their purchase and deepens their relationship with a brand. More and more companies are seeing their philanthropy as a natural way to create the next generation of socially-conscious customers.

Focusing companies on meaningful giving is more than a new twist on philanthropy. It represents an evolution in the role businesses play within society. It’s a monumental change, not only in how businesses are structured but also in how they define success. These days it may not be enough to build a good business—you may have to build a business that actually does good.

- Animas Media

 

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