When you think about current trends, strong coffee and yoga might quickly come to mind. Trends are not confined to just food and fitness, though. Entrepreneurs and companies are taking note and becoming more socially conscious in their business endeavors to attract and retain customers.
It’s increasingly popular for businesses to advertise their support for social issues. According to Cone Communications’ 2017 CSR study, 87 percent of consumers will purchase a product because the company champions a cause they care about.
Of course, it’s nothing new for companies to want to showcase that they care. Companies have chosen token charities for many years. The difference now is that we live in a global and transparent society. The coming of age of the Millennial generation has signaled a change in consumers’ expectations. Millennials have grown up attached to news feeds — they’re constantly informed and socially active. As a result, they don’t want to be sold on a product; they want to get behind a movement.
Unfortunately, there are brands that make big noise about all the social good they’re doing but aren’t as authentic as they seem. For them, social action is more of a marketing tactic than a true passion.
Certainly, donations and actions that support a charity are helpful. But in order to create real, lasting change, social good can’t be viewed merely as a tax write-off.
Identifying a Company’s Authenticity
As a consumer, you can put companies to the test and get the peace of mind that you’re buying from people who care as much as you do. Here are five questions to help you assess whether a company shares your social priorities or is just blowing hot air:
1. Is the company transparent about its impact?
A lot of companies make claims on their homepage that they donate a portion of their profits to good causes. But don’t be fooled — claims like these are easy to make but hard to follow through on.If a company is really dedicated to the cause, it will prove and document its impact. When it takes you more than four clicks on a website to find information about the company’s giving, the business is probably just working a brand awareness scheme.A company that is transparent about its impact and is also one of my favorite socially minded businesses is Bombas Socks. Its connection to the homelessness cause is a no-brainer because warm socks are the most commonly requested item at homeless shelters. Every time the company sells a pair of socks, it donates a pair to someone in need. And it’s not an empty promise — Bombas has a live counter on its homepage, and since launching, it has donated more than 5 million pairs of socks.
2. Will the company prioritize cause over profit?
If a company really cares about a cause, it will work to support it no matter what the returns are. When facing a difficult sales year, look to see whether the company still makes a regularly scheduled donation. A great way to understand a company’s social good priorities is to find out whether it keeps giving even when people aren’t looking.
The companies that truly care will shift their budgets in hard times and still make things work to keep their social missions alive. They don’t do this because it looks good; they do this because giving is a core part of their business plan, and they wouldn’t dream of giving it up.
3. Are employees devoted to the cause?
Another easy way to determine whether a company prioritizes its cause over its profit is if it has full-time staff members devoted to the social good initiative. Having salaried workers focused on making a difference is far from a superficial gesture.
For example, with Vitamin Patch Club, I actively hire to build upon a culture of giving. Before I ask about a candidate’s qualifications, I ask about his or her opinions, world outlook, and passions. We also have a salaried employee whose job is to research and connect with charities. In business school, instructors might tell you this employee’s salary is a burden. But in my book, she is vital to our company’s identity and goals.
Because the individuals on the team all care about social action, our initiatives become more powerful. We grow into a tribe that works toward the same goal, which is crucial to create change.
4. Are company leaders involved?
It’s easy for a leader to sign off on charitable giving and then never think about it again. What requires true, authentic passion is playing a proactive role in the social mission.
Keep an eye out for leaders who are outspoken about social justice and who are using their positions and platforms to make a difference in their communities. Check out the company’s Instagram or Twitter account, and scroll through the photos. Is the CEO out there picking up trash or getting on his or her bike for the sponsored cycle? These are positive signs that upper management understands the social good initiative and is more than willing to embody the cause.
5. Is the company asking for your input?
If a business is serious about making an impactful change, it will listen to the ideas and viewpoints of its consumer base. There’s no question that social change grows in power when people work together. We can’t know how to help people if we don’t engage in a dialogue with them. So if a company seems closed off about its social mission and wants to do it all by itself, that might be a red flag that it’s not donating for the right reasons.
To improve our actions at Vitamin Patch Club, we poll our subscribers every month to ask them what charities they find most important and why. The institution with the most votes receives our donation that month. It’s simple, and it helps us ensure we are having the type of impact our users value most.
It’s inspiring and exciting that one of today’s trends is social giving, but we can’t rely solely on corporations to put their billions into good causes. As a society, we no longer have to wait for the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson to get out their wallets again. Instead, we can all lead the social movement from our own communities by inspiring our employers, employees, and neighbors, all while also expecting more from the companies we buy from.
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