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How Can Your Business Give Back?

Small Business

Who Gives a Crap, Thank YouTOMSPARK Social Soccer co, and Warby Parker may be some of the most loved brands in our home in 2019, but chances are it wasn’t just their sleek designs or witty marketing campaigns that convinced us to transact. The idea of ‘doing good’ and getting something we want at the same time is good for branding, and good for business.

But what does it really take to create a business model that gives back? What steps need to be considered before working with a charity or creating a social enterprise? How can you balance business viability with charitable donations? 

For this month’s small business column we’re diving into business models that give back, with practical tips for your business from Fiona Killackey of My Daily Business Coach and sage advice from Simon Griffith, founder of Who Gives a Crap 

Let us know which business topics you would love to learn about in 2019 by emailing us here.

15th February, 2019

Members of the Who Gives A Crap team in their Collingwood office. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Co-founder and CEO Simon Griffiths. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘If you do good you’ll be held to a higher standard than your competitors! ‘ tells Simon. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Who Gives A Crap launched on crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo in 2012. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Every June the business makes its annual donation, which usually means its bank accounts go from full to empty overnight! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

It gives 50% of profits to build toilets and has provided $1.8 million to charities to date. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Fiona Killackey
Friday 15th February 2019

‘”Doing good” and getting something we want at the same time is good for branding and good for business.’ – Fiona Killackey.

TIPS FOR BUILDING A BUSINESS THAT GIVES BACK  

 1. Know your why

What’s the reason your business exists? What’s the long-term impact or legacy you wish to create? Knowing this is the first step in working out how your business can give back and the best possible charities or causes you will support. Perhaps you wanted more flexibility in your life after becoming a single parent, or perhaps you felt there was a gap in the market for a more ethically produced product. Maybe you were influenced by trauma in your past or perhaps you wanted to build something that would enable minority groups to have more of a voice. Whatever your why is, uncover it, understand it, share it and ensure however you choose to give back aligns with it.  

 2. Research the contenders

When it comes to charity partnerships, rushing in can cause long-term confusion for your customers, and financial loss for the business. Do your research. Is the charity you wish to partner with stable? Who else do they work with and how does your business align? What support (content, reporting, field trip access) can they give? How transparent is their practice (will your customers be able to genuinely see how their money has impacted the planet/people)? How do their business goals align with your own? Ideally, you want to forge a long-term partnership that’s beneficial to both parties.  

 3. Understand the numbers

The amount you may wish to donate or give back may not match the reality of your sales. Go in too large and you may be left financially vulnerable, go in too low and you may not be able to make the impact you desire. Ask youself, what does this figure look like today, and what does it look like five years from now? Is it sustainable? Work with an accountant or CFO to crunch the numbers so your donation and/or partnership makes sense and won’t leave your business open to instability. And remember, you can start small then scale as your business does. Giving back doesn’t always have to mean going big! 

 4. Invest in your brand

Thank You began purely as a water business, before offering additional product categories. This was only possible because they had invested in building a strong brand and loyal audience, who were devoted to the overall cause – “life-changing products” – rather than one specific product (water). Consider your messaging: is it about the people and the vision behind the brand or does it focus too heavily on one product line? If you were to pivot how would your customers react? A strong business is one that is able to carry their audience with them as they grow and adapt (even if that means dropping or changing offerings).  

 5. Walk the talk

If you’re aligned with a charity to empower women through education, what training and education opportunities do your own staff have access to? If you’re working with an environmental cause, how does your workplace wastage stack up? Well before launching any marketing or media around giving back, ensure you’re ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to your own business practices and processes. Aligning with a charity or cause will magnify scrutiny of your business, and you must be ready to answer any and all questions that your customers – and the media – will have.   

Fiona Killackey is a business consultant, author, and mentor for My Daily Business Coach. You can sign up to her weekly email full of small biz insights and tips here or purchase her new ebook, all about having a great business year here.

The Who Gives A Crap team (left to right): Tim Baxter, senior growth marketing manager; Megan Olney, head of customer experience; Simon Griffiths, co-founder and CEO; Tim Jacob, financial controller; Phil King, head of sales; Ellie Smith, head of people and culture; and Zoey Hopkins, inventory planning analyst. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘If you’re on the fence, think about the impact we could have if every business donated just 10% of their profits!’ – Simon Griffiths. 

IN PRACTICE: WHO GIVES A CRAP 

Since launching on crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo in 2012, Who Gives a Crap has become a household name, with their toilet rolls, tissues and paper towels stocked in homes, restaurants and hotels across the globe. Created by Melbourne trio Simon Griffiths, Jehan Ratnatunga and Danny Alexander, the business gives 50% of profits to build toilets and has provided $1.8m to charities to date. We sat down with Simon to discuss the brand’s vision, advice he would give to others just starting out, and why financial acumen is crucial when building a business that gives back.

Who first inspired you to create a social enterprise?

Who Gives A Crap is all about impact – we’re on a mission to show that businesses (and our customers and staff!) can have a huge positive impact on the world by making better decisions. Who Gives A Crap’s main inspiration are the 2.3 billion people across the world who don’t have access to a toilet. That’s roughly 40% of the global population and means that around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation – that’s more than 700 children per day, or one child every two minutes. I wanted to start a forest-friendly toilet paper company that donates 50% of its profits to help to improve access to basic sanitation, hygiene and clean water in the developing world. 

 How do you balance profit and business viability with giving back? 

Our goal has always been to have as much impact as possible, so we structured the business to ensure we’re able to grow quickly (as growth ultimately means more impact), while maximising our donations along the way. When we started, we had a decision to make: donate a small amount of profit, donate 100%, or somewhere in-between. Donating 100% of profits can significantly impede a business’ ability to grow, while donating 10% or less might have meant it would take a long time to have any meaningful impact. We decided that 50% was the perfect number – it allowed us to continue to invest in the rapid growth of the business, while still having a significant impact along the way. A few years in, we’ve been able to double or triple the size of the business every year while donating over $1.83 million, which we’re incredibly proud of!  

It hasn’t always been easy, though. Managing cash flow is a challenge for many businesses, but it’s especially hard for us as we have to balance making a big annual donation with the usual costs of doing business. Every June we make our annual donation, which usually means our bank accounts go from full to empty overnight, and we need to ensure that we can do that without slowing down production, shipping, marketing and, of course, paying our suppliers and team! We’ve gotten incredibly good at modeling cash flow as a result, so it gets easier every year – we’re expecting this year to be the smoothest yet! 

What advice would you give to someone who has a business or a business idea and wants to give back but is scared it will make their business non-viable from a financial perspective?

1. Doing good is good for business: regardless of how our customers initially found us, our impact is what they remember most. Our impact helps us to find new customers, and keep existing customers engaged and coming back to buy from us again – our social media posts relating to our impact have the highest engagement, and we see a strong correlation between our biggest sales days and the days we’re talking to our customers about our impact. We hope that our model will inspire more businesses to do good

2. Doing good isn’t easy: if you do good you’ll be held to a higher standard than your competitors! We tackle this by providing lots of information on our website about our impact, where our profit goes, our production standards, and a whole bunch of other questions. Doing this well builds trust in your customer base, which, for us at least, has meant that our customers often go above and beyond to tell other people about what we’re doing. 

3. Decide what impact you want to have, then design your business around it: lots of people told us that it would be impossible to run a business that donates 50% of its profits, but so far it’s worked really well. If we were a regular toilet paper company we’d look at the cash required to make an annual donation and say that it’s not possible, but because we started with this constraint from day one we’ve simply found ways to make it work. 

4. If you’re on the fence, think about the impact we could have if every business donated just 10% of their profits! I think that successful business owners have an obligation to give back, but it’s important to do it in a way that’s true to who you are.

 What’s next for Who Gives a Crap?  

We’re hoping to see more than just toilet paper, tissues and paper towels in our customers’ homes before the end of the year, but I can’t say more than that for now! In the meantime, we’re concentrating on building up our USA and UK customer base (as well as at home in Australia) to encourage more people to make the switch to toilet paper that’s good for people and the planet. And of course, we’re looking to maximise our donation as we get closer to our June 30 donation deadline. 

Who Gives a Crap is currently hiring for their LA and Melbourne hubs. Visit them online or connect on Instagram.

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