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December 9, 1995

Doing Good: No Longer Optional

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Once upon a time, charities did good and businesses made money, and that was that. Oh, a company might have given away a small percentage of its cash through a corporate giving program, but that was optional and it was the extent of its involvement in doing good. If the company made an occasional contribution, great. If not, no big deal.
Few, if any, are comfortable anymore with a view of business that is devoid of social responsibility. Today, it’s all about combining social and economic success, both personally and corporately.
Steven Garber, a true gem of a feller and founder of The Washington Institute, introduced me to the good work being done by the food company Mars, for which Steven has served as consultant. Here’s a company that is striving for a thoroughly positive impact on the world. From working with a foundation to reduce obesity, to increase yields of “orphan” crops that could provide good nutrition for millions of people in Africa, to moving toward a goal of using 100 percent fair-trade certified cocoa, to reducing water consumption, to fighting child labor in the nations where it has factories, Mars is pursuing specific goals to be a responsible global neighbor. This kind of thinking and action is core to their DNA. They want to do good and be good and be known for good.
Doing good is quickly becoming (or may already be) a nonnegotiable aspect of doing business. Why?
• The best and brightest won’t work without doing good. As Millennials advance in the workforce, the importance of doing good will become paramount in attracting top talent to your organization. In fact, a 2012 Nielsen study found that 62 percent of respondents preferred to work for companies that give back. Of these socially conscious individuals, 63 percent were under the age of forty.
• Consumers want more than a quality product; they want a socially positive one as well. The same Nielsen study found that “two thirds of consumers around the world say they prefer to buy products and services from companies that implemented programs to give back to society … nearly half say they are willing to pay extra for products and services from these companies.” According to another survey, “When quality and price are equal, the most important factor influencing brand choice is Purpose. Across the globe, the prominence of Purpose as a purchase trigger has risen 26% since 2008.” Consumers are being retrained to expect more than just a functioning product and prompt service; they want social good as a standard add-on. Tyler Merrick of Project 7 told me, “We will return to companies and individuals who are quietly doing both sides—the giving of a service and product and doing good along the way.”
• It’s good for business on many levels, so not doing it doesn’t make much sense. Saving natural resources, making employees happy, building goodwill—things like these are all good for a business at the same time they are good for the world at large. Economists Michael Porter and Mark Kramer consequently argue that businesses need “policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates.”
Your business ignores the social good at its peril. But let me issue a warning: As doing good has become a more integral part of business, it has also become more difficult. There is now greater accountability and higher expectations associated with generosity. In short, once you dip your toe in the water, you had better do it right. Too many people are doing the business of generosity well for you to do it poorly.
Some start-ups have made doing good the very purpose of their work (Sevenly). Others have tried to do their kind of business in a way that’s more ethical than anyone in their line has done before (Burt’s Bees). Some have been generous in giving away their profits (Ben & Jerry’s). Some have addressed sustainability all the way back to raw materials and labor (Tegu). Whatever the best way may be for your business to enter the dimension of doing good, get moving on it.
Gabe Lyons, founder of Q Ideas, talks about the “common good,” which is broader than personal advantage (what’s good for an individual, family, or group) and is even bigger than the public interest (what’s good for the majority in a society). It’s about what’s good for everybody. This is the mindset that is always looking for opportunities to be generous.

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