Villing & Company

Doing Well By Doing Good Revisited: The New Generation of Socially Minded Businesses

In June of 2007, my colleague, Scott Tingwald, wrote a great piece on "Doing Well by Doing Good". Traditionally, when we think of cause marketing, we tend to focus on it as sort of appendage to traditional marketing activities – a social responsibility component if you will. And there's nothing wrong with that. Executed properly and honestly, there are few downsides. In most cases, some worthy mission or charity reaps tangible benefits while the marketer gets props for its sense of social responsibility.

On my drive into work this morning, I heard a piece on NPR called "Selling Water, Health Care in the Developing World." It was about the start-up activities of Healthpoint Services, a socially minded, for-profit business providing extremely low cost health services and clean drinking water to low-income residents in rural India. Their plan is to develop this business model and provide these essential services globally to as many as a billion people in need. Since it would be next to impossible for a traditional, not-for-profit organization to raise the necessary money to grow the operation, Healthpoint is using their for-profit model to generate funding from socially-minded investors.

While I am not aware of many businesses whose for-profit model is quite so directly linked to delivery of services to the poor, there are ample examples of companies whose social mission is closely integrated with their operational activities. At the top of the TOMS Shoes website, it boldly states "With every pair purchased, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for One." This is the essence of TOMS' corporate mission. In many ways, selling shoes is just a means to an end. Patagonia wears its commitment to environmentalism almost literally on its sleeves – donating one percent of its sales "to the planet" and supporting a variety of recycling and conservation initiatives. Back a little further in history, when Ben & Jerry's first went public in 1985, the Board of Directors committed 7.5 percent of its pre-tax profits to philanthropy.

Of course, there are scores of other examples of corporate social responsibility and powerful cause marketing. While I hadn't really planned it this way, it seems an especially appropriate discussion at this time of year when we are reminded of how much we, as a society, have to be thankful for and the importance of being good citizens of the world community.

Filed Under: general

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