Social missions are wonderful, right? They reward your cause, employees, customers, image, bottom-line and conscious. I’m sure you’d love to create a business around a social mission or build one into your current company…some day. Some day when you’ve proven your business model, raised funding, grown your market share, found the right business partner or made your first hire. All convincing reasons, except that they’re not. Here’s the advantages your business (of 1, 2 or 200 employees) has over large companies when it comes to running a social mission.
- Your smaller company is more agile. You can plan, execute, track and revise nearly on-the-fly. Less memos, less approval, less internal politicking diluting the programs.
- You can take more risks with your social mission. You have less of a reputation to uphold. You can be a renegade, a heretic, recognized for your commitment to social change and your willingness to try new ideas.
- You face less financial accountability. Smaller companies aren’t held to the same monetary expectations as larger ones. Your programs’ strength lies in their impact and effect rather than your company’s financial commitment. CoverGirl’s one-time Clean Makeup for Clean Water campaign costs the brand $500,000 in an upfront investment to its partner charity, the cost of a micro-site and prize expenses in return for a luke-warm impact. Your cosmetic company can affect people more directly by offering products and makeovers to women re-entering the workforce in partnership with a workforce re-entry program and your local Dress for Success chapter. Cost? In-kind only.
- You have a fresher slate. Small companies are often seen as more personal, less greedy and less noxious. There’s less initial cynicism of your motives and choices. Common Soles faces less scrutiny than TOMS Shoes and TOMS Shoes faces less scrutiny than Timberland or Nike.
- You entice a stronger non-profit partner. Smaller companies are rarely able to attract (nor should they try to) the top crust of non-profits. When Los Angeles’ public radio station KPCC offers its listeners a chance to fight hunger, they work with the LA Regional Foodbank, not Feeding America, because the work of the LA Foodbank impacts KPCC community and is more relatable to its consumers (listeners). With fewer wooers and less brand value, a regional non-profit will be more willing to commit time and labor to the project, as opposed to just a sliver of its name recognition.
- It’s easier to galvanize your employees around your mission. As companies need to convince consumers of their sincerity, they also need to convince their own employees. The smaller a company, the shorter this process. Employees help determine the social mission, shape it and execute it. Small means your passion for the cause comes across clearer (skip the memos, anecdotes of other companies and stats. Make it about creating value for the cause you’re supporting.).
- You have more of your customers’ attention. I’m exploring a hunch here, but I think that generally the larger a company is the more we view it as a commodity and the less likely we are to listen. Would you be more willing to support a pin-up campaign at Walmart or your neighborhood local bakery or corner deli? One of your advantages as a smaller business, is the frequency of touch points that you have with customers. Use these opportunities to bring them into your mission through storytelling, contribution and advocacy.
What you can do now
- Which of these points did you connect with the most? Was it the opportunity to impact customers or the idea of working with a gung-ho non-profit? Build your first initiative around 1) whichever principle this is and 2) the cause or beneficiary that fits your company.
- Take a risk (it’s not as big as you think. You’re not jeopardizing a lot of money or brand value and you’re leading with sincerity to do good).