With my head still reeling from SXSW Interactive, it’s back to the grindstone solving clients’ public relations challenges with a renewed focus. Buzz at the conference this year centered around a trend that may surprise you: social giving. There was an exceptionally strong track for attendees interested in learning how non-profit organizations are adapting to innovations in technology and social media. I had the opportunity to attend a few, including “The Future of Nonprofits: Thrive and Innovate in the Digital Age” led by David J. Neff and Randal C. Moss, and “Method Tweeting for Nonprofits” featuring a great cast of players including Carie Lewis from The Humane Society and Jennifer Windrum, better known for her work with “WTF?” (Where’s the Funding) for Lung Cancer? You can click on those links to learn more about these people and sessions.
Beyond that, charity and public awareness campaigns were very evident, including a #poopin campaign for World Poopin’ Day (silly name, great cause), and a charity drive for Japan organized in a matter of hours immediately after the initial earthquake that raised more than $100,000 for tsunami disaster relief.
So what did I — a consultant who helps FOR-profit businesses thrive — learn? I’ve always believed that when an entrepreneur is passionate about what he or she DOES (more than the money that can be made), and the product or service truly solves a problem, then that business is operating with a motivation similar to that of a non-profit. This is certainly true for some of my clients in industries like healthcare, where knowledge and service to others is the focus. So while I attended several sessions focused on non-profit issues, I came into them with the framework of “How can my for-profit clients apply these principles as well?”
It’s as if keynote speaker Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes knew this question was on my mind. TOMS is a ridiculously popular shoe company that honors a one-for-one business model: For every pair of shoes TOMS sells, it donates one pair to someone in need. If you’re not entirely familiar with the company, you may at least recall the AT&T commercial featuring Mycoskie and TOMS two years ago.
What you may be surprised to learn is that Mycoskie makes no apologies for TOMS being a for-profit company. In fact, he touts it as the future of business.
“Giving doesn’t just feel good, it’s a really good business strategy,” he explains. “When you incorporate giving into your business, your customers become your biggest marketers.”
This business model is working so well for him that it seems TOMS will soon follow the path of book-selling giant Amazon.com (now selling everything including the kitchen sink), and deliver more than just shoes.
“TOMS is no longer a shoe company, it’s a one-for-one company,” he declared on the SXSW keynote stage. In June 2011, the company will unveil what exactly that means.
How is your business finding ways to give back, either on a large scale or small? And what has the response been from your customers and business partners? Have you found that giving back leads to better profits?