You know what’s the difference between for-profit and nonprofit organizations? Well, much like between republicans and democrats: substantially nonexistent. It’s just another false dichotomy.
Most people think that businesses have to be involved in some type of charitable work in order to make the world a better place. Not quite true. According to the popular archetype, businesses are expected to be redeemed through corporate giving. Money is just so “dirty” that it has to be, somewhat, reinvested into starving children, housing for the homeless or whatever else. Not that this kind of investment is entirely futile in regards to changing the world. Not entirely.
How Your Business Can Change The World
In the past couple of years, the public has been increasingly educated on how exactly evil corporations can be. We’ve learned about sweat-shops, poor labor conditions, unfair trade and production models causing skyrocketing carbon footprint. It seems like money isn’t the problem after all but profoundly inhumane business practices.
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, trends are changing and the primary source of revenue for many nonprofits are now fees for rendered services and goods.Manoj Bhargava, the founder and CEO of 5-Hour Energy, has pledged to use up 99% of his net worth on projects that benefit humanity. Corporations and nonprofits have never been less distinguishable. That’s how social enterprises are born.
You want to make a difference? Well, you don’t need a Rockefeller Foundation, just organize your business so it serves human beings and the earth. A lot of humanitarian work is directed towards fixing the problems that were not there before. Before that first billion you make and perhaps start following Bhargava’s example, try not to create additional socialproblems. Try not to contribute to the existing ones. Educate yourself. Once you concur that, maybe you can try creating some solutions.
Here are some ideas on how to run a more conscious business:
1.) See yourself as a job creator.
You are an entrepreneur. You had a thought, you acted on it and now you’re actually employing people. You are economically uplifting a whole bunch of folks and it’s sustainable? Congrats, you are changing the world.
2.) Embed meaning in your business model.
Give serious contemplation to your organizing model. Corporate capital clusters have seriously contributed to an unseen economic inequality on a global scale. These clusters are produced by particular business cultures. Organize your business so it doesn’t contribute to vast socio-economic inequalities.I’m personally a devotee of cooperatives. Co-Ops are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility,democracy,equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty,openness, social responsibility and caring for others. This model ofproduction also shrinks environmental footprint, promotes responsibleconsumption, taking into account the whole supply chain under fair tradebasis. And yes, they’re scalable.
3.) Build relationships to create customers.
Treat your customers with respect and honesty. Sell them the truth. Don’t offer sleazy freebies, nonexistent discounts and free shipping. Let them know what are they paying and why. Should I mention lengthy Terms & Conditions with unexpected clauses? There is a special place in hell for corporate lawyers writing those. If people think they don’t need your products, they might be right. Don’t count on triggering their lowest impulses to make a buck. Care about them. For Christ’s sake, don’t outsource your customer service. Put simply, have integrity.
4.) Lead with principles as your bottom line.
Treat your coworkers with respect and honesty. Inspire them. Lead them. Empower them. Don’t manage them. And, please don’t take unpaid interns, it’s disgusting.
5.) Make social justice a priority.
Position social justice principles at the heart of your strategic planning. These can be obscure if not contextualized. Take time with your team to figure out what the principles mean for your business and how to act on them.
6.) Give money to charity
You want to do it old school and give to a nonprofit? Sure. There are gazillion of them out there. A good idea would be to check the ones that align with your business, that you have trust in, whether by having a previous personal relationship with one or just by researching GuideStar. Make sure your donation is being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is supposed to be a meaningful partnership. Don’t just give, be involved.
7.) Use social media and apps to connect with causes.
We live in a technological age, make use of it. Perhaps you’re still not ready to invest long term into a nonprofit project but you still want to contribute to a cause. Check out some apps. Our Co-Op is using an app that allows customers to choose to round up the amount of their purchase. The difference goes to renewable energy and carbon capture projects. Make sure there is no pressure on your customers to donate, charity shaming is a real thing.
8.) Connect with people who are already doing similar work.
You have a clear nonprofit vision but lacking funds to make it real? Partner with other enterprises in your field to create a mutual fund. This can be a legal ordeal but worthwhile doing. Much like when you were starting your business, choosing a niche no one else thought of is equally important for your nonprofit project. For example, my idea would be to create an incubator for co-ops and social enterprises owned by marginalized groups. My research has shown that most incubators cater to white, middle class, techy, western man. Also, this is a great chance to connect with people from your industry. For-profit world shouldn’t be a dog-eat-dog competition.
9.) Partner up with other organizations.
Another way is to partner with enterprises from your industry and form a professional association. Many industries need a place for networking, brainstorming & standardization. This is a great way to provide the best quality for the best price for your customers, in the most ethical manner. A more streamlined business model will definitely sustain more people. As Kevin Spacey said in one of his movies, A job worth doing, is a job worth doing well.
10.) You are already doing great things.
Finally, whatever route you decide to follow, bear in mind that being a philanthropist means love of humankind. It does not begin with an act and it does not end with one. It’s a consistent emotional discipline that pushes you to choose the long term gain over instant gratification. You are changing the world with every moment. This is the only responsibility you have as an entrepreneur and human being you cannot delegate. Embrace it.