Yesterday I wrote about some of the ways that small startups with limited resources can create a social mission. Today, I came across a tool that makes it easy for your company to try out a buy-one-give-one model called B1G1.
Traditionally, buy-one-give-one refers to like products. TOMS Shoes and Sunnight Solar are great examples. Every time you purchase a pair of shoes or a solar flashlight, an identical item is donated to an individual. B1G1 uses the term more liberally to include any type of donation triggered by a purchase.
Here’s how it works. After signing up, your business can choose from more than 600 projects to support (clean water, sanitation, education, housing, etc.), which are searchable by region, organization or cause. Decide how much your company will donate each time a (particular) product is purchased. At the end of the month, you tally up eligible products and B1G1 will process the donation for you. There are no transaction fees but there is a fee to use the software.
There’s been a recent crop of e-commerce philanthropy platforms recently that are marketed as plug-and-play philanthropy for retail sites (Benevity is another that iStock Photo is working with). Some are better than others, but as a whole, because they are set up as for-profit companies they charge business too much for the service in relation to the micro-donation amount they encourage from the business or consumer.
The upsides of B1G1:
- The concept is worthwhile. Portals that make it easy for a company to systematize giving is positive.
- Businesses can pretty easily use the platform to test out what engages their employees and consumers. If they are supporting several organizations and regions at once, B1G1 simplifies the accounting and funds distribution.
- 1,258,761 giving transactions have been made through March 2010. The site measures donations through what they achieved, the number of children educated or meals provided, for example. I’d like to see the total amount donated in addition to the impact of the donation.
- It can be an efficient tool, but can’t be your company’s only effort. Twitter is a tool to help a company communicate, but it’s not its entire communication strategy.
The downsides of B1G1:
- It simplifies a social mission. B1G1 or a similar platform should only be one tool in the toolbox. There’s tremendous benefit from engaging with the communities or causes you’re supporting. In interviews and articles, I spend a lot of time talking about how to find and structure partnerships between your business and nonprofit organizations because the deeper these relationships are, the greater the benefit for the business, the nonprofit, consumers and the community.
- Your business is vetoing the option to get support from the nonprofit. B1G1 offers to write about your company as part of its service, but when you don’t engage directly with the nonprofit, you miss out on the publicity and customers they drive to your business.
- The system relies on the companies to report on how many products they sold that triggered a donation. There’s no accountability.
- It costs money. $395 for small businesses with 15 or fewer employee and unspecified prices for larger businesses. While 400 bucks isn’t a lot to spend on a program, it’s disproportionate to the encouraged donation amount of 1 or 2 cents per product.
- It’s easy to overrepresent your do-gooding. This is the hardest point for me to articulate because it’s a perception I have rather than a direct figure I can point to. B1G1 doesn’t push for real impact. The site seems marketed as a way for a business to check off an ethical obligation because a) it’s shown that customers like this, and b) as a business, you’ll like it too. While I agree with these points, I take issue with the lack of information on the site. I can’t find a business listed that shares how much it’s donating per an action or purchase. If you market your company as supporting others in need (even with something as innocent as a link on your website), you better follow through…with more than a couple of dollars per month.
It’s tempting to use a tool like this–particularly if you’re small and strapped for time and money–as a quick solution (even if you are giving substantial amounts). I encourage you to develop other partnerships and programs (either within your company or with your suppliers or consumers) in addition to using B1G1 or a similar platform.