A platform for social business

This post is from friend and DI supporter John Rougeux. John is the VP of Social Giving at Sojo Studios, a start-up web organization that enables people to give to select charities through online gaming. Below, John shares his insights on the possibility for creating a platform for non and for profit collaboration:

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says Simon Sinek, visionary thinker and speaker. In other words – being genuine matters. This isn’t true just for people; it also applies to businesses. And consumers are increasingly demanding that businesses to take “genuine to a whole new level – by actively creating positive social change in the world. But accomplishing that isn’t something corporations can do alone; they need strong non-profit partners who can help them turn good intentions into meaningful outcomes.

According to Havas Media, “nearly 85% of consumers worldwide expect companies to become actively involved in solving [global] issues.” Not only that, but 44% of consumers are willing to “punish” a company for acting socially irresponsibly. Furthermore, a separate study done by Cone Communications, with Duke University, found

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that “79% [of consumers] say they would be likely to switch from one brand to another, when price and quality are about equal, if the other brand is associated with a good cause.” It couldn’t be clearer: businesses can no longer get by with only making a good product. Instead, they have to be able to say, “Because our business exists, the world is a better place.”


Sojo Studio's partner visit.

Sojo Studio’s partner visit.

While it’s a nice idea, how many corporations can actually make this claim? Havas also notes that “only 28% of consumers worldwide think that companies today are working hard enough to solve our social and environmental challenges,” and that “20% trust companies when they communicate about their social/environmental commitments and initiatives.” Ouch.

Why such a discrepancy? Sure, you can shop at Starbucks and support the fight against AIDS and malaria through The Global Fund. Whole Foods will support causes like the animal shelter when you use your own grocery bags. But these are one-offs, not the standard.

Would more be done if businesses were simply better educated on social issues? I don’t think so. Obviously, businesses don’t have much expertise on the subject. But they shouldn’t have to. Pursuing such knowledge wouldn’t allow them to focus on what they do best – building quality products. Instead, businesses should turn to the expertise that already exists, by partnering with proven non-profits that match their brand. By finding a non-profit whose mission is aligned with the values and attitudes of its customers, a forward-thinking business certainly take advantage of the consumer preferences that Cone noted. The non-profit would benefit, too, of course, though increased exposure and likely some meaningful financial support.


Work on the Erikoodu Briquette being conducted by Kaleidoscope.

Work on the Erikoodu Briquette being conducted by Kaleidoscope.

Here’s a great example: Design Impact has partnered with Kaleidoscope, a product design-firm based in Cincinnati. The partnership is really meaningful, because it goes deeper than surface level. Sure, Kaleidoscope has provided Design Impact with resources such as office space, staff time, and even financial backing. But beyond that, the two organizations also share something more meaningful: they both use a design-oriented approach to come up with products, ideas, and processes that meet the needs of their customers. Kaleidoscope does so with consumer goods; Design Impact with eradicating poverty. Because the two organizations have so much in common, the partnership is one that all their stakeholders can get behind.

Partnerships like these are definitely steps in the right direction, and encouraging for any organization looking to pursue something similar. Unfortunately, though, such arrangements are still uncommon. Regulatory filings, legal contracts, paperwork, and generally not knowing where to start can keep plenty of organizations from ever moving forward. We learned this first-hand at Sojo Studios (my own place of employment), where we had to devote considerable resources to creating partnerships and navigating the associated regulatory landscape. Had non-profit partnerships not been critical to our business model, it’s unlikely that we would ever have found the time and resources to make them happen.


Sojo Studios website, featuring Wetopia.

Sojo Studios website, featuring Wetopia.

Without a streamlined way for a for-profit and a non-profit to find each other, that statistic about 28% of companies not doing enough isn’t going to change much. What we really need is an “eHarmony” for cause marketing. Something open, flexible, transparent, and large-scale. This doesn’t exist yet, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t. With an obvious desire from consumers to see the companies they patronize “do good” in the world, and high barriers to entry for-profit/non-profit partnerships, the world is ripe for a better solution. Groupon built one for daily deals, Amazon and eBay did it with retail, and Kickstarter make it happen with crowdsourcing. Why not something for corporate social good? Keep your eyes peeled; something is bound to develop soon.

In the meantime, speak your mind about whether or not the businesses you patronize are doing enough to create positive change. And lastly, share your thoughts: are for-profit/non-profit partnership the best way for corporations to create social good? What needs to happen in order for them to more easily occur?


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