Can one mix business interests with social responsibility? Or, is social responsibility in a business really an indirect marketing or public relations strategy to have people buy more products and services? I have wrestled with this topic from time to time. Is not a company’s sole purpose to provide a return for its owners/shareholders no more no less? Or, does owning a business carry with it additional responsibility to society? And, if the company decides to be “socially responsible”, are the company’s intentions genuine? In other words, do they really care about the community, the cause, the issue or did their PR firm recommend them to do it? Does it matter if the intentions are genuine or not? Does the age and/or financial health of the business matter? Sure, large corporations that have a solid financial footing can forrey into initiatives that are not directly tied to the bottom line but what about the young start-up that is struggling to get the business off the ground. Is it really wise to spend precious time and resources on something other than generating revenue no matter how worthy the cause? These questions are legitimate. I think that with many things, the answer may not be just black and white, but a shade of grey. One will undoubtedly find in this world a few bad apples that do these good works purely as an indirect marketing initiative to gain more profit but their “heart” is not behind it. But, as I am an eternal optimist, I think the majority of the time there is a genuine, sincere desire from the business (or individuals within the business) to make things better with supporting whatever cause, community function it is that they are behind. After all, a business may have the ability to make a greater impact on the cause than just a sole individual. As a friend mentioned today, human beings crave purpose and community and adding a community or social responsible driven charge to a business brings that element to what can be an otherwise stale and sterile environment. I agree with that thought.
I write this post as I now find myself as a business owner wading into these murky waters of mixing business interests with social responsible initiatives. On August 12th, I along with friends will be swimming 2 miles in Grand Traverse Bay Lake Michigan in an open water swim event called Swim For GT Bay benefiting The Watershed Center. The Watershed Center Mission, Vision and Values are as follows.
Our Mission – The Watershed Center advocates for clean water in Grand Traverse Bay and acts to protect and preserve the Bay’s watershed.
Our Vision – The Watershed Center is the leader in protecting and preserving the Bay’s watershed and achieving broad community commitment to clean water.
Our Values – The Watershed Center, its board and staff believe its work is best accomplished when:
We use, model and promote consensus-building, collaboration and openness to all perspectives on issues affecting clean water in the Bay’s watershed. Our actions, activities and decision-making are ethical, principled and based upon the best current science. We work as advocates, not adversaries, as much as possible, believing there are always ways to resolve issues without jeopardizing clean water. We believe the water quality of the Bay and the economic viability of the region are totally dependent upon one another. We encourage and seek to achieve behavior change that makes and keeps our water clean. Above all, we stand up for what is best for the protection and preservation of the entire Grand Traverse Bay watershed.
The event has a unique component. Each participant is responsible to fundraise $150 for the Watershed Center on Crowdrise in addition to the $45 entrance fee in order to compete. I thought this was a cool idea. I debated whether to sign up as an individual, raise the funds necessary and keep Colliver Technology Group out of it. Besides, what does clean water or my desire to help out the Watershed Center have anything to do with sales, marketing and CRM solutions? Why would my customers care what I do with my free time or which nonprofits I support? Why take the risk of ticking them off filling up their email inboxes looking for a donation? Well, I reflected on this topic a bit and I kept coming back to some companies that inspire me. What do they do? How do they tackle these decision points? Two companies that inspired me to mix this swim with the business are Patagonia and Torrent Consulting.
I am sure you have heard of Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and gear company. And, you may have heard the story of Yvon Chouinard, the company founder. If not, feel free to check out his NPR podcast above. He has taken social responsibility to the outer edge. Does the cynic in me think that they may do this to benefit their brand? Occasionally. Do I think that, at the end of the day, Patagonia’s heart is behind their social responsible efforts? Absolutely.
The other company is Torrent Consulting. Torrent is a fast growing Saleforce.com consultancy in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with company co-founder, Phil Brabbs. He shared with me a bit about the company history and the “Torrent 10”. Here is an excerpt from their site on how they describe the Torrent 10.
What gets you out of bed every morning? Torrent loves to support companies in their move to innovative technology, but it’s the social side of our business that gets us really fired up. We believe that the most effective way to create change is to drive the work of businesses intent on doing good. Torrent10 commits money, time and expertise to social enterprise businesses. Ten percent of each quarter’s profits are used to support these ventures. We also offer time, support and mentorship to help these entrepreneurs succeed. The companies below are obsessed not just with creating successful, profitable businesses, but with creating lasting good in communities, both locally and globally. Charity or profit isn’t a decision we’re willing to make – we think you can have both. That’s why Torrent10 is something we take seriously.
So you might ask, is Dave genuine? Or, is this an indirect marketing approach that Dave is testing out on us to tie his business to “good works”? Valid and fair questions. I guess all I can say is I care about our Great Lakes and their future health. Our family loves to swim and if given the opportunity, loves to boat and fish on it as well. I know a lot of my friends enjoy these things as well. I know the Grand Traverse region relies on the Bay to be clean for our tourists and to keep the economy healthy. I know that if it was not clean, the collective we would have many many difficult issues on our hand. So, with all that, I felt this swim was an opportunity to mix business and social responsibility.
To that end, here is the CTG and Friends Crowdrise page for you to check out and donate if you so wish. We are attempting to raise $1,000 by August 12th. As you will see, inspired by both Patagonia and the Torrent 10, I’ll be matching 10% of the money raised by our team.
Thanks for reading and considering donating to this cause.