I had the chance today to join a Huffington Post Live discussion on the impact (or lack thereof) of causes promoted by for-profit companies. Having spent the past several years developing strategic partnerships with a range of major corporations from Dow Chemical to Ferragamo, I have a point of view on what it means for companies to take on the work of making the world a better place. The discussion had a great mix, from Jeffrey Robinson of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development at Rutgers University to social entrepreneur Kesang Yudron, Founder of Padhma Creation, and outspoken blogger Ruzan Sarwar, among others. A great group, an animated discussion, and some great insights for me on what makes people skeptical of these partnerships as well as what makes people hopeful about the impact they can have.
During the live chat, I summed up my view on what makes for a good marriage between a corporation marketing a product and a good cause as follows. The partnership should be:
1. Strategic – Meaning, aligned with the brand and strategy of the company so that it grows with the company and doesn’t fade away as trends shift. Great examples are P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water program and the Tory Burch Foundation, both driven by the strengths and values of the companies behind them, and as a result, built to last.
2. Impactful – today we debated what the standard should be for impact, but I admire partnerships that support and highlight the work of existing organizations doing great work. I’m a big fan of FEED, which has focused on issues where small individual gifts really do add up to change. FEED generates those gifts through purchases of bags that essentially sell at cost+charity. With a lean operation and powerful brand ambassador in the form of Lauren Bush Lauren, they have delivered millions of meals through 13 respected non-profit partners including the World Food Program and UNICEF.
3. Generous – again, though there is no perfect standard for what is generous, charitable giving should be considered an investment in the legacy of a company and in the creation of a more sustainable future for all. This is a far cry from viewing it as one small slice of a marketing budget. Companies may start small, but great partnerships increase their generosity as they grow, rather than cashing in on short-term marketing benefits.
With each of these, the choice rests with the consumer. Which cause-related product will you buy and wear, what statement will you make? And more importantly, how will these choices lead to bigger changes, larger acts of generosity, and a deeper understanding of the ways in which the world is interconnected. It may seem like a tall order, but I am a believer that the tools of business and the informed decisions of consumers, combined in the right ways are ONE important tool in our fight to end poverty, injustice and environmental degradation. Please do check out the discussion.