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5 Social Good Startups to Watch in 2014

In 2013, top startups helped their customers buy fresh food through the mail, share their cars and enjoy delicious cider. We predict that 2014 will be a breakout year for startups dedicated to social good.

Working for the social good can mean a lot of different things, but it’s generally defined as activity that promotes benefits for all of society. So when it comes to social good startups, you’ll see many offering products and services that promote giving and volunteerism or directly take on some of society’s most common ailments like poverty or inequality. 

Whether your idea of “social good” is protecting the environment, helping the needy around the world to set up businesses or helping the homeless in your neighborhood to get their lives back, here’s our list of 5 Social Good Startups to Watch in 2014:

 

Prosperity Candle

http://www.prosperitycandle.com/

@prosperitycndle

Prosperity Candle provides candle making and business training to refugee women who have been forced from their homes due to war, famine or discrimination. Through creation of small businesses, these women are able to earn a living wage, provide for their families and take back control of their lives.

What to watch for in 2014

Look for Prosperity Candle’s outreach to extend farther than ever as the social enterprise launches new products from around the world including rice bowls from Japan and the soapstone candle holders handmade in Kenya. Proceeds from these Kenyan vessels go directly to African families to help with healthcare costs, fund education, and support micro-enterprises in the area.

The Bottom Line: Artisanal candles create opportunities for underprivileged women and families around the world to prosper.

 

Wine for The World

http://www.wine4theworld.com/

@wine4theworld

Wine for The World sends experts abroad to work with winemakers in the developing world to create the best wine possible. Through partnerships with top Napa Valley winemakers, these small businesses are then able to export their wines for sale in the United States, a notoriously difficult process for even top wine importers.

What to watch for in 2014

In December 2013, Wine for The World completed their first collaboration between Helen Kiplinger, 2012’s Food & Wine Magazine Winemaker of the Year from Napa, CA, and Ntsiki Biyela, 2009’s Woman Winemaker of the Year, in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The wines will be available for purchase in the US starting in February/March of 2014.

The Bottom Line: Winemaking partnerships in the developing world promote small-business success and exceptionally good wine.

 

lur apparel

http://lurapparel.com/

@ lur_apparel

lur apparel is a women’s fashion brand making clothing from 100% recycled materials, including plastic water bottles. In addition to the startup’s ecofriendly pursuits, the company donates a portion of its proceeds to Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit providing education and microcredit to underprivileged women, and Miracles in Action, which provides education and vocational support to the areas where lur’s clothing is manufactured.

What to watch for in 2014

lur apparel is expanding its lines each season. At the end of 2013, lur apparel began offering a greater range of clothing to fit women of all sizes. Currently featured in over 200 boutiques around the country, watch for lur apparel to continue to grow and make an appearance in a women’s boutique near you.

The Bottom Line: Sustainable and socially responsible clothing for women who make a difference.

 

Catchafire

https://catchafire.org/

@catchafire

Catchafire connects nonprofits with the professional volunteers that their organizations need to make an impact. A nonprofit posts a project (web design, for example) and potential volunteers apply online as they would on any other job board. Catchafire then helps schedule the interviews and facilitates the hiring process.

What to watch for in 2014

This year volunteering will mean more than spending an afternoon at the soup kitchen. Catchafire will allow volunteers to build their resumes while helping a good cause and give nonprofits direct access to the professional help that they need.

The Bottom Line: Catchafire gives professionals the opportunity to use their skills to make a difference.

 

Hand Up

https://handup.us/ 

@handup

Hand Up is a Bay Area startup working to help the homeless and others in need through digital donations. Each member (a person or family in need) receives their own web profile and a personalized business card. They then distribute their cards to friends, neighbors and anyone else that may want to help. Donors give online or through SMS, and member use these donations for the food, clothing and medical services that they need.

What to watch for in 2014

While currently only available in San Francisco, watch for Hand Up to begin partnering with organizations around the country. This digital approach to donating will allow for thousands of homeless and poverty-stricken families get the help they need with dignity.

The Bottom Line: Digital donations directly serve the homeless and those in need in San Francisco, and soon around the country.

 

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4 Way to Avoid Greenwashing Your Eco Friendly Brand

In a marketplace where customers put a lot of thought and effort into buying eco friendly and mission-driven products, being accused of Greenwashing can put a permanent stain onto an otherwise spotless reputation.

“Greenwashing” is the practice of creating false or misleading marketing in order to promote a product as being more eco friendly than it actually is. Not a day goes by without a new article or blog post about a brand greenwashing its products to increase their bottom line.

Unfortunately when promoting an eco friendly product, it is very easy for your marketing to slip into potential greenwashing territory. No matter how well-intentioned your claims may be, even the smallest misstep could end up costing you your brand’s image.

Here are 4 ways to avoid “greenwashing” your brand while having an eco friendly impact.

Don’t Focus on “Being Green”

If the main focus of your marketing efforts is on how “green” or “eco friendly” your product is, it may be time to take a step back and reexamine the way your brand is being portrayed. Focusing on how “green” your products are can be dangerous for two reasons:

 

  • First, it is very hard to scientifically prove broad claims like being green or eco friendly.
  • Second, and most importantly, in 2013 a product being green is just the price of admission to the marketplace. Consumers like that your brand is eco friendly, but also want to know what else it can do for them.

Trying to be the greenest brand is what causes many brands accused of greenwashing in the first place. Keep on being eco friendly, but focus your brand’s marketing strategy somewhere else.

 

Take a Second Look at Your Packaging

Another common issue that often leads to accusations of greenwashing is the way that a brand’s products are packaged and shipped. No matter how eco friendly a product may be, if it arrives at a customer’s home buried under a foot of Styrofoam packing peanuts, they may begin to question your eco friendly motives. While most consumers will understand your need to ship your products by plane or truck, and package them in a way that will prevent any damage, going overboard on packaging materials or using non-recyclable materials like packing peanuts may be unforgivable.

 

Avoid Making Eco Friendly Claims That You Can’t Prove

Another difficult-to-avoid trap of greenwashing is making claims that you know, or at least believe, are true about your product that you can’t back up with any sort of scientific study. Any time your brand makes an eco friendly claim without absolute, scientific proof you run the risk of being disproven by the community and, potentially, fined by the government.

This can be particularly frustrating for brands that have worked very hard to become or maintain their eco friendly status. Scientific studies take time and are often very expensive to produce. For a small brand or startup, this time and money can be impossible to spend. You may know that your brand has eco friendly qualities, but without a true scientific study you can’t legally or morally share that message with consumers.

 

Don’t Hide Your Brand’s Eco Friendly Short Comings

Your brand does almost everything in a green and eco friendly way, but there may also be some areas where your eco friendly efforts fall short. There’s no problem with that as long as you don’t try to hide it from the public. A brand can only hide its faults for so long, and when the truth comes out in the form of a blog, news story or memo from your competition, your customers will be left wondering what other secrets you may be trying to hide.

Always be as open and honest with your audiences as possible. If you are still making efforts to clean up parts of your business, share those efforts with all of your audiences. Not only will they accept your shortcomings, but will also applaud your efforts and often want to learn more.

How have your favorite eco friendly brands avoided greenwashing their products? Share your thoughts below.

 

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Image by: Colin Kinnear [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Rewarding Your Fans for an Eco-Friendly Pledge

Earlier this month Coca Cola asked its UK customers to take a pledge to reuse or recycle their soda bottles and cans. The brand launched the “Don’t Waste. Create.” website, sharing ideas for how customers could reuse and repurpose Coke bottles instead of throwing them away.

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McDonald’s French Fries: Transparency Gone Bad?

Last spring, McDonald’s restaurants launched a campaign aimed at being more open, honest and transparent with its customers. Included in this campaign are “Our Food, Your Questions” videos on the brand’s YouTube channel. In these videos, the company answers questions submitted by its customers via social media. While the videos have been around for over a year, an 8-month-old video discussing McDonald’s french fries has recently sparked outrage among healthy eating advocates online.

The video in question highlights McDonald’s french fry recipe. The recipe contains 17 ingredients, including preservatives, artificial colors and genetically modified oils. This has prompted many advocates to speak out against McDonald’s promoting petitions and boycotts, while others simply ask, “What ever happened to ‘potatoes, oil and salt’?”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaNH56Vpg-A&w=500]

This backlash against McDonald’s has prompted some experts to question if McDonald’s attempt at transparency was a mistake. Should McDonald’s have kept their french fry recipe under wraps?  How much transparency is too much?

So, was sharing the french fry recipe a mistake? Not at all.

While McDonald’s is far from innocent, the brand’s mistake was made years ago in a kitchen/laboratory, not in a five minute YouTube video. Creating food with complete disregard for human health is more than a mistake, it’s totally irresponsible. However, sharing the information online in a YouTube video was the best move that McDonald’s could have made.

You would be hard-pressed to find an American who hasn’t already made up his or her mind about McDonald’s. For some, McDonald’s products barely qualify as food. For others, McDonald’s is a delicious, affordable and quick meal, and they will continue to eat it whether it’s affecting their health or not. For most of us, McDonald’s and other fast foods are “sometimes foods.” We accept that the meals are unhealthy, so we just don’t eat them everyday. Whichever group a consumer falls into, it’s hard to believe that learning the french fry recipe will be changing her mind. In fact, the release of the recipe presents McDonald’s with a chance to improve and actually profit off of any bad publicity. New and improved “healthier” fries, anyone?

Imagine a scenario where McDonald’s didn’t share this information on it’s own, but rather it was “leaked” by former employees. Competitors and news outlets (at least those sponsored by Wendy’s and Burger King) would jump all over McDonald’s for the chance to exploit a juicy story. The bad publicity would be many times worse and reach far beyond the online health food community. This story could be front-page news, but thanks to McDonald’s transparency campaign, it’s sandwiched between articles about low-fat milk and “40 uses for lemons.”

The takeaway from the McDonald’s french fry experiment is that whether you’re running a small nonprofit working hard to make a difference or an “evil” corporation that puts profit above all else, transparency is still the name of the game. By being proactive and transparent, McDonald’s turned something that could have been a public relations disaster into a soon to be forgotten afterthought with a potential upside.

What do you think about McDonald’s, its transparency campaign, and its chemically enhanced french fry recipe? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Image By: By Giorgio Martini (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

The 5 Must-Have Qualities of Successful Mission-Driven Brands

There are hundreds of mission-driven brands out there competing for consumers’ attention. Why are some successful, profitable and long-lasting while others quickly fade away?

Here are the 5 Qualities a Mission-Driven Brand must embrace in order to achieve long lasting success.

 

Authenticity

A great mission-driven brand separates itself from the competition by promoting a mission that its audiences can really get behind. However, if a business isn’t 100% dedicated to its mission, any claims will quickly become worthless and could become detrimental to the brand as a whole. For a mission-driven brand to have a real impact on its stakeholders, and its bottom line, it must make every business decision, no matter how minor, with its mission in mind. From its marketing to its hiring policies, to the suppliers and shippers it chooses to work with, it must maintain the principles set forth in its mission statement. Even a minor deviation from a brand’s mission-statement could cause it to lose all of its mission’s added value and become just another brand fighting for shelf space in an overcrowded global marketplace.

 

Integrity

In addition to acting inline with its own mission statement, a mission-driven brand must also strive to promote and improve the greater good. In the public eye it’s not enough to fight for a one cause while ignoring a negative impact on another environmental or social good issue. This often becomes an issue for brands that work with a large number of suppliers, shippers, etc. While a brand’s values may be in line with improving the greater good, it must be especially diligent to make sure that the companies it’s working with are on the same page. This selectiveness can often mean higher costs and greater hassle, but it’s necessary to keep a brand going strong.

 

Transparency

A mistruth or misrepresentation no matter how minor can quickly lead to the demise of a mission-driven brand. When it comes to leading a mission-driven brand, transparency should be the number 1 priority. This means not only publicizing successes, but also being open and honest about shortcomings and sharing the efforts to make improvements.

 

Consistency

While transparency is the name of the game when it comes to marketing and public relations, it is also extremely important that a brand’s message to match its products. A customer may love a brand’s mission, but if its products are faulty, low quality or simply don’t meet their standards, their first purchase will also be their last. Customers must know what to expect from a brand’s products and have their expectations met every single time.

 

Receptivity

While having a great product and mission may be enough for a brand to enjoy short-term success, a willingness to take feedback and evolve with its customers’ needs is what will push a mission-driven brand toward the long-term success its team desires. Brands must listen to all of their stakeholders, most importantly its current customers and the organizations that its mission supports. The brand should show them how important their feedback is by sharing the developments that are taking place because of it. By being receptive to its stakeholders the brand will not only be able to improve its brand equity and mission, but it will also build a community around the brand that will support it in the months and years to come.

What qualities are most important to you when it comes to choosing your favorite brands? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

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By lumaxart (Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Top 5 Reasons Eco Friendly Companies Fail at Green Marketing

Over the past several years, consumers around the globe have begun to make an effort to act and shop in a more environmentally friendly manner. At the same time, we’ve seen companies respond with new products and offers to entice these conscious consumers.

“Green” and “Eco Friendly” marketing campaigns seem to dominate media. Multinational companies are touting their green efforts while small start-ups are producing everything from recycled clothing to solar-powered cellphone batteries. With all the hype around “going green” its easy to launch now and ask question later. That means we are seeing more and more companies fail at green marketing.

Here are our top 5 reasons why Eco Friendly Companies Fail at Green Marketing, and what they should have done instead:

Not Being Transparent in Their Green Marketing Efforts

In marketing an exciting product, it is often convenient and tempting to “stretch the truth.” Sometimes the brand managers don’t even realize they’re making a claim that they cannot completely back up. Big numbers, big claims and big taglines sell, but if a company doesn’t have the data to support these statements, the truth will come out. No matter how well-intentioned a brand’s mission may be, bad publicity, and even government fines, will quickly impact business success.

In the age of social media, bloggers and twenty-four hour news cycles, transparency is the name of the game. It is especially important for eco friendly brands to be completely transparent; the public holds these brands to a much higher ethical standard than the typical clothing company or fast food joint. Green brand’s need to be open, honest and forth coming about EVERYTHING. While a little white lie may boost sales in the short-term, transparency, honesty and the building of trust will produce much stronger long-term results. This means even if the answer isn’t perfect, its better to tell the truth than call in the spin doctors.

Making Green Marketing Claims That Don’t Reflect The Total Impact of The Product

This type of marketing mistake can be especially tricky for eco friendly brands. Here’s an example:
“Brand A produces home goods made from recycled materials. This is certainly a noble mission and one that the average eco friendly consumer would like to support. However at the moment, the chemicals and machinery needed to process the materials for recycling create harmful waste and are actually detrimental to the environment. Does that mean Brand A isn’t eco friendly?”

Unfortunately, despite its noble mission, Brand A cannot be classified as eco friendly. At the moment, it would be detrimental to Brand A’s mission to promote itself as an eco friendly company. Another example is times when companies make blanket claims like, “Better for the environment.” The product may be in fact better for the environment, but that doesn’t mean it is good for the environment. There are plenty of nasty chemicals that might be slightly less bad than others. In these instances, companies should avoid making the green related claims altogether.

Failing to Follow FTC Green Guides

In late 2012, the Federal Trade Commission updated its restrictions on how businesses and advertisers may promote their “eco friendly” products. These restrictions strictly limit the claims that brands can make, including eliminating all unsubstantiated “eco friendly” and “green” marketing claims.

According to “Environmental Claims: Summary of The Green Guides” published by the FTC,
“Marketers should not make broad, unqualified general environmental benefit claims like ‘green’ or ‘eco friendly.’ Broad claims are difficult to substantiate, if not impossible.”

And that’s just the beginning. All claims made in advertising or on packaging must now be backed up by scientific data proving that the claim is true. In many cases, this type of study is impossible or very expensive to provide. Mislabeling of a product or making a false advertising claim can lead to large federal fines that could cripple even the most kind-hearted mission based business.

Failing to Connect with Eco Friendly Consumers

Eco friendly minded consumers are some of the most loyal and vocal in the global marketplace today. They are often well-educated, with a higher than average amount of disposable income and a circle of friends that shares their desire to be “green.” So why are so many eco friendly brands, with missions that this influential group of consumers would love to get behind, having so much trouble connecting with them?

As the number of eco friendly consumers has risen, it has become harder to connect with them than ever before. In addition to having to cut through the clutter of every other brand competing for a slice of the pie, eco friendly consumers have become more segmented in their desires and less trusting of the next big thing. Rather than taking a shotgun approach to advertising as a “green” company, brands need to spend time targeting and building relationships with the groups of consumers who are most interested in the brand’s mission and products. Eco friendly bands then must go beyond being eco friendly to distinguish themselves. 

Thinking, “Green Sells” When It is Product That Moves

Studies show that given the choice most consumers would purchase a eco friendly product over a non-eco friendly product if their prices were the same. Very few consumers are willing to spend a substantial amount more to buy an eco friendly product. We’ve always known this, even in spite of our best intentions, our wallet tends to rule the day.

This presents a problem for eco-friendly products if they are counting on just their green claims to promote them to the top of the pile. They must also have a great product. It must be the same or better than the non-green competition. It must stand out on its own merits, and can’t simply be a watered down alternative.

Have more thoughts on this subject? Let us know in the comments below.

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By Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What I Wish I Had Done in College: Get Involved in Sustainability

Now that I’m a college graduate, I can take a moment to look back and think about the things I wish I had done during my time there . More and more, one thing stands out: I wish I had gotten involved in sustainability sooner.

When starting college as a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, anything to do with sustainability was far from my mind. My dad tried to convince me that a major in biology or environmental studies was a smart idea due to the increasing focus on global warming. I promptly ignored him (typical of my 18 year old self), telling him that I had no interest in the topic. I went on to double major in marketing and dance, and even managed to avoid all science classes until the summer after my junior year. Recently though, two experiences have made me rethink my earlier phobia to science and sustainability.

First, I took an environmental studies course during last summer that examined the issue of climate change. The reading for the course included an article from Fast Company titled “8 Ways The World Will Change By 2052.” I was shocked by my ignorance to the topic. I had no idea that the current consequences of climate change were so dramatic. And the predictions for the future scared me even more. Even if I could try to avoid some of the opinions or predictions in the articles, the supporting facts were undeniable: Climate change is here, and something has to be done.

During the same summer, I began an internship here at Brave One, working with sustainable and socially responsible brands. I’ve seen first hand how our clients are working to positively impact the world while producing products and services that are as good or better than their non-ecofriendly counterparts. Sure, sometimes it takes more care and effort, but if it was possible to be good to the planet while also profiting, why isn’t everyone doing it?

So now I look back, and can offer five resources that every college student should pursue to learn more about sustainability. I know I wish I had done them all.

So from my perch of post-college, I have 5 recommendations for Freshman year me and any anyone else heading to college and not thinking about sustainability. Do these five things and your eyes will open to the issues, but more importantly, you will make a difference for the planet and your community.

1. Take an environmental studies class. Want to get involved with sustainability on your college campus but don’t know how? An environmental studies course is a great place to start. Even the most basic 100-level class will cover an array of environmental issues and conflicts. If you decide to continue your studies throughout school, be sure to check out these top 10 best environmental programs in the U.S.

2. Read the news and stay informed. Even if you are enrolled in an environmental studies class, be sure to supplement your classroom and textbook experience with other sources.  TED TalksThe New York Times, and the Environmental News Network are all fantastic resources for sustainability news. Additionally, to sign up to receive notifications for Brave One’s latest blog posts, enter your email address to your left.

3. Join a club on campus to get involved and meet other like-minded students. Schools all over the nation have green student organizations that help to make their campus more sustainable. For example, EcoPledge is an initiative at Boston College that presents lectures, hosts annual celebratory events, and shows films to increase awareness for sustainability practices on campus. The Sustainability Club at Simmons College works to green its campus through installing a compost, single stream recycling, urban bee hives, and a solar energy panel.

4.  Become an Eco-Rep. Similar to sustainability club and organizations, schools everywhere are beginning to adopt eco-rep programs. Though most of the programs are structured differently, the goal is to educate students and encourage them to take action. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the eco-rep program is a semester long course on topics such as energy, consumption, waste and recycling, industrial agriculture and food systems, greenwashing, and more. On top of classroom experience, the eco-reps create educational material and attend field trips.  At Ithaca College, the eco-reps are paid positions for on-campus students. They participate in weekly training and planning meetings to increase green practices in residential halls.

5. Check out the College Sustainability Report Card. GreenReportCard.org is the first interactive website to provide sustainability profiles for hundreds of colleges across the nation. After evaluating the schools across over 50 performance indicators, each is assigned a letter grade.  As a student, inform yourself about your college, the areas they are succeeding in and the areas that need improvement. The site is a great resource and features a section specifically for students with ideas about how to get involved.

I hope that my story and this guide encourage college students to take action as soon as possible.  Take the time to research the various options for involvement, read about global warming and sustainability, and then commit to making a difference.

What are your best ideas for getting involved with sustainability in college? A reaction to my story? Let me know in the comments. 

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Image by Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, via flickr.

4 Ways to Balance Mission and Sales

One of the most common questions we receive from clients is how can they can balance their social or environmental mission with their desire to profit. It’s a good question, because in many instances the more they sell, the more impact they can have. Below are our four ways we have seen work that can both promote a socially responsible business’s mission while also moving product.

1. Tie engagement offers to mission results. Consumers have been trained to respond to calls to action that have something in it for them. Well this same principle can be adapted to appeal to our more altruistic selves. Simply put, the what’s in it for them can be a “feel good” contribution. Along with a healthy dose of transparency, it can often make sense to tie a call-to-action with a direct mission result. One great example comes from Roozt, an online flash-sale retailer. Roozts stands out for its commitment to giving back. The company, founded by Brent Freeman a short four years ago, launched a “One Member One Meal” initiative in partnership with Feeding America. As the name suggests, for every new member that signs up for the Rootz (which is completely free), a meal will be given to help feed someone in America.  Hunger relief is integrated into the company’s core mission, which in Freeman’s words translates to “bringing sexy back to giving back”.  This effort engages the right type of potential customers using an offer that is tied to Roozt’s core values. While we don’t have first hand knowledge, we wouldn’t be surprised if Roozts is fully aware of its customer acquisition costs, and that donating to Feeding America may in fact be a very cost-efficient way of acquiring future customers while also making an impact.

2. Leverage mission goals to create sales urgency. One of the common ways to encourage consumer decision making is to create a sense of urgency around an offering. You know, the whole, “24 Hour Sale Only” style of marketing. Creating urgency around a mission can be just as effective of a way to increase impact and still move product. Consider setting a daily, weekly, or monthly goal, and then encourage consumers to purchase in that time frame to increase or match the impact they’ll have.  A great way to do this is to include a visual representation of where you are in reaching the goal. For example, if donating a portion of sales to a mission related cause, include a clear thermometer of impact on your company’s website. This will push your customers to help out and buy a product to reach the ultimate end goal. Need help creating a thermometer of impact for fundraising goals? Check out this tool.

3. Make mission impact transparent. The tried and true example of a company with clear core values put into action is Toms. Customers know exactly what their impact will be by purchasing with the “One for One” promise. Over 2,000,000 pairs of shoes have been given to children in need around the world. The transparency of this model is what makes it so successful. Tell your consumers exactly how they will be giving back if they purchase from your company.  Whether it’s a buy one give one promise like Toms, the ability to sponsor something in need, or a percent of profits to a charity, give your customers something concrete to feel good about. As you build your group of core consumers, never be shy about updating them on how you are progressing on your mission. If they’ve participated, they’ll feel good about patronizing a company that is making a real impact with their business. The easiest way to do this is to send out quarterly “mission-impact” emails that tally up your firm’s impact for that quarter.

4. Leverage mission for long-term sales. Enterprises with strong social and environmental missions gain recognition for their good works over time. This recognition will translate into brand awareness and eventually into a tribe of passionate consumers. This won’t work for the fair-weather do-gooders, but for those businesses firmly rooted in their mission this is often a path to long-term success. An example comes from Prosperity Candle. The company sells candles and other gifts, but at its heart lies a passion for empowering women through entrepreneurship. They use candle making to help from distressed parts of the world rebuild their. Their great work was recently featured on the Today Show. This feature lead to a successful day of sales on their website. Although this certainly isn’t a strategy for businesses looking for instant results, it is wise to remember that media and consumers reward authenticity.

How has your company balanced mission with sales? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Image By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Johansen Laurel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

5 Ways to Avoid CSR Disasters

1) Choose a Cause Close to Home

When choosing a cause to support it may feel like the best plan of action is to jump onto the trendy cause of the day and ride major press coverage of the issue to CSR glory. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. True CSR isn’t about jumping on the hottest trend. It’s about connecting your brand with a cause that you and your stakeholders actually care about and working together to build change in the long run.

The best way to select a CSR project is to choose something “close to home.” This could mean working on a project geographically close to home, like helping out at a local soup kitchen or cleaning up a local park, or it could mean choosing a project that is very closely related to your brand. If possible, do both. For example, if your brand sells products for women, find a cause related to women’s health or women’s rights in your area. Don’t think too far outside of the box. Simplicity makes it easier to maintain a strong connection and keep your mission on track.

2) Be Weary of Potential Partners

Businesses and nonprofits often are looking to partner with companies that are committed to corporate social reasonability. Beware; even if your intentions are good, choosing the wrong partner can lead to a CSR disaster. Just like in any business deal, it’s extremely important to do your research before throwing yourself in headfirst. How much do you really know about this potential partner’s business? Are you sure you have shared goals in common? Will there be equal value in achieving them together?

Every so often you’ll get hit with a curveball. Maybe the assumptions you launched the partnership with are proven to be incorrect. Or it could be something worse like a scandal involving your partner’s leadership team or an unpredicted product defect that leads to major bad publicity. While you may not be able to protect yourself from these types of public relations disasters, it is important to think about a plan for ending your partnership even before it begins. With this plan, you’ll be prepared for any eventuality.

3) Be Consistent

Once you choose a project or a partnership that works, stick with it for as long as possible. Long-term relationships mean much more to the perception of your brand than a couple flash-in-the-pan fundraisers. While it’s impossible to build year or decade long relationships overnight, connect with a cause that will be important in the long-term and someday you will able to say your brand was part of the solution.

 4) Include Everyone

A CEO serving food at a soup kitchen is nice. An entire office regularly running a food drive as a course of business is better. Including everyone is important for three reasons:

1) Demonstrating your commitment to CSR goes beyond the possible publicity and straight to the heart of your business.

2) Getting all employees and their families involved vastly grows the impact of any effort, helps employees see first-hand why they are participating, and often improves communication on everyday business matters.

3) People love to talk about the projects they are working on, especially when they are doing good for their communities. Get your employees and stakeholders talking about your projects and indirectly, they’ll talk about your brand.

5) Be Honest

When it comes to promoting CSR projects, honestly is absolutely the policy. Be honest with your audience, with the communities you are servicing and, most of all, be honest with yourself and your team. One lie, one inaccuracy or one half-truth will sink your project almost instantly. Between social media, cable news and hundreds of thousands of bloggers searching for the next big story, honesty and transparency are vital to the life any CSR commitment. You may make mistakes or have shortcomings, but never try to cover them up. When it comes to businesses doing good consumers care more about you trying than they do about you being perfect. A little white lie can quickly erode trust and undermine all of you future efforts.

Do you have any additional tips for avoiding CSR disasters? Let’s chat in the comments below.

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