If you've tossed around the idea of starting your own business, you've probably tried to think of a business model that not only provides enough money to live a reasonable life, but one that makes a difference in the lives of others and the world we live in. It's kind of hard to see how making a profit and giving back can possibly co-exist, but they can. And do. In fact, consumers overwhelmingly choose socially responsible businesses when given a choice. How is it done? Let's find out.
What Does It Mean?
A socially responsible business (SRB) is not necessarily one that directly supports charitable or sustainable causes. You could sell handbags and be an SRB. SRB models are typically for-profit businesses that have built-in strategies for improving the well-being of the local, national or global community within each and every sale. An SRB is structured in a way that makes a profit for owners and shareholders, but also makes contributions toward a sustainable world. Sounds great, doesn't it? How's it done?
Ways to Do It
Marti Beller, CEO and co-founder of PlanG, a charitable donation and fundraising platform says that 80 percent of customers will switch brands to support a charity they care about. "There is no downside to driving your business while impacting the greater good," she explains. The PlanG platform partners with over 250 businesses to make it easy to incorporate giving as customers make purchases. Designating a percentage of every purchase to a specific or selected cause is one way to be a socially responsible business.
Another way to give back is the one for one model. Rather than wait until the holidays or only collect monetary or product donations at specific times, companies that use the one for one model provide a product donation to a worthy cause for each product purchased. I mentioned Yoobi before and how the company provides school donations with each purchase made. Toms is another great example of how to give back. The company was founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006. Mycoskie had recently returned from a trip to Argentina and witnessed the hazards and injuries poor children suffered because they lacked shoes. His simple idea was to create a company that matched each shoe pair purchase with a one for one donation to a child in need. Since it was founded, Toms has donated over 60 million pairs of shoes to needy children. As the company grew, new charitable initiatives were added. For example, the types of shoes given now varies according to the terrain and seasons where recipients live. The company also creates local jobs by producing shoes in the very regions they serve.
Can Service Businesses Be SRBs?
It seems easy enough to give back when you have a retail business. But, say you're a systems whiz and want to start a business helping other small businesses set up their computer systems. How can you make a service business an SRB?
SplinterRock is a technology consulting company that is not only a service business, but an SRB as well. The company offers nonprofit organizations low-cost and free services to make sure more money goes directly to the cause and less money wasted in administration fees.
When I started out as a freelancer, in addition to writing, I also did web design. I offered free design services to animal shelters and rescues, a cause I care deeply about. The point is any business can be socially responsible if you find the way. So, yeah - you can start a business, make some money AND feel good about it at the same time.
What are your socially responsible business ideas?