3 Surprising Ways to Weave Social Good Into a Startup

While some business models are more overtly social and/or environmental in terms of the problem and solution, every entrepreneur can (and, dare we say, should) integrate some aspect of social good into their business. Simon Lockyer, Co-founder of Everydayhero, reminds us, “social good is good for business.” Picture2We also want to add Better World Books to Simon’s and our blog readers’ list of “re-imagined business models.”  Better World Books is a triple-bottom-line social enterprise that supports literacy efforts around the world (more than $10 million) AND diverts books from waste streams (over 80 million pounds re-used or recycled). If any of our readers need a textbook or other reading materials, including the newest bestseller, purchase with Better World Books and engage in the collective impact. 

Originally published via Entrepreneur‘s on-line magazine.

We live in a world where options are endless, products and services are easily replicated and consumers regularly shift loyalties. With this type of fickle environment, longevity will not be found in revenue alone. Rather, it will be the product of delivering an emotionally rewarding experience. Companies reimagining business models to weave social good into their DNA will reap more than success –they’ll cultivate customer advocates.

Paying it forward pays dividends for companies in more ways than one. The obvious benefit is in improving the world but being social-minded can also earn a shining reputation, loyal customers and even happier employees.

The bottom line? Social good is good for business. And while some entrepreneurs may get overwhelmed by the concept, it doesn’t need to be an extreme pivot in a company. We don’t all need to be TOMs.

When you look at companies like TOMs or Warby Parker, it’s easy to see how they’ve incorporated social good into the heart and soul of their organizations. The foundation of their entire business is rooted in giving back so much so that they’ve worked the cost of giving into production and operations. On top of that, people are prepared to fork over extra money for the added cost because these two companies have cultivated desirable brands with emotional connections that touch their customers.

However, not all companies have the ability to develop innovative solutions that solve age-old problems like hunger and poverty and not every startup has the resources to donate big bucks and products or fulfill grants like Salesforce. This shouldn’t deter entrepreneurs from building a company that values more than the bottom line. There are many ways to grow a company’s giving footprint on a local, national, or global scale that might even surprise you.

Here are a couple of ways to give back that you may not have considered:

1. Support an open APIAt its core, social good is simply anything that benefits the largest amount of people in the most significant way possible. With that in mind, would it surprise you to include open source APIs under that definition? Information sharing with other open platforms supports a collaborative environment that spurs innovation. Ultimately, it can help entrepreneurs who are just getting started to develop transformative technology that tackles society’s toughest challenges.

CitySourced, an app that empowers people to identify and report civic issues, is just one example. The app benefits from tapping into leading CRM, AMS, and GIS systems to improve local communities.

2. Help other communities thrive. A less traditional, but equally impactful form of social good can be found in companies like Threadless. The company sources T-shirt designs for its ecommerce site from independent artists and has become an outlet for supporting lesser known artists. Through their innovative business model, budding artist entrepreneurs are able to earn royalties for their designs right away, ultimately keeping people employed and strengthening the economy while Threadless taps into an almost inexhaustible supply of creativity.

3. Partner to support the big picture. Solving a societal issue is a tall order and can be a lot for a company to tackle alone, especially a startup that is just taking off. Take a tip from Coca Cola and support causes that tie back to your company’s mission. When water scarcity threatened Coca Cola’s ability to produce beverages, the company funneled resources into protecting the world’s endangered watersheds. Coca Cola’s expertise lies outside of environment protection, so they partnered with several nonprofits to ensure the program’s success. Sure, the program may be driven by self interest, but it’s also helping local communities and, ultimately, the entire planet.

Whether it’s through volunteering directly with charities, donating products and money or passing along innovative, new technologies to others, there is a unique way for every company to make social good an integral part of its organization. The benefits — attracting talent, employee engagement, image improvement, and, ultimately, changing the world for the better — are well documented.

Greg van Kirk will be flipping this conversation on its head in his session “Smart Innovation: From Social to Business” next Thursday afternoon at the Irish Impact Conference. Register today to get in on the discussion!

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