5 Ways to Create a Socially Responsible & Profitable Company

Lightning strikes miss LibertyRecently, I had the opportunity to proselytize socially beneficial business models to a crowd of upstart entrepreneurs with varying levels of interest in social responsibility.

I spoke with upstart entrepreneurs about five ways they can incorporate cause into their business, regardless of its size. Although the methods range in their levels of commitment and implementation time, they all display action on the behalf of a cause.

  1. BOGO: Buy-One-Give-One

    With a BOGO business (a company that donates an exact item match for every item sold) cause is at the core of the business model. BOGO businesses have dual objectives, to support and enhance their causes and to turn a profit (the latter, the distinguishing factor from a nonprofit).  Exemplary BOGO businesses are Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child, The BoGo Light by Sunnight Solar and TOMS Shoes.

    Millions of pairs of shoes to children in need in South America and Africa.
    WHAT TOMS GETS: Recognition for pioneering the BOGO business model and a vocal following of die-hard fans.

  2. Portion of Profits Donated

    The most common way companies engage in social responsibility. A company will pledge and donate a portion of proceeds to the community it serves.  In 1983, long before cause marketing was the term du jour, American Express ran a campaign to fund restoration of the Statue of Liberty. For every dollar spent on an Am Ex card, the company donated 1 cent toward restoration.

    WHAT THEY GAVE: $1.7 million toward Lady Liberty’s overhaul.
    WHAT THEY GOT: A 27% increase in card use and 47% growth in new card acquisitions.

  3. Transparency and Call-to-Action

    Transparency is primarily effective when a company pledges to support a cause and publicly charts its progress. The one-two punch is the follow-up call-to-action, which motivates the customer to act on behalf of the same cause. Timberland cares about environmental stewardship and has for some time. But many customers to whom this might matter, were unaware. Only with the introduction of something called the Timberland Nutritional Label, however, did Timberland weld its cause to the consumer.  The Timberland Nutritional Label is affixed to the boxes of all 3 million pairs of footwear sold annually. It shows the buyer where the footwear was made, the amount of energy that went into making it and the amount of renewable energy Timberland uses.

    WHAT THEY GAVE: By calling itself out as a conscious company, Timberland held itself responsible in the public’s eye.
    Sales grew 10% annually and stock prices doubled from 2006-2008.

  4. Employee Volunteerism

    Paid time-off for employees to volunteer, either on a company-sponsored or individually chosen project. Imagine the culture of a corporation that truly values giving back, to the extent that it will trade temporary profit for employee satisfaction and loyalty and a tested public image of its commitment.

    WHAT THEY GAVE: One week of paid-time off and loss of productivity per employee.
    WHAT THEY GOT: Increased brand awareness and enthusiasm and employee satisfaction that translated to growth in sales.

  5. Employee Incentives

    Inculcate your employees in your company’s mission not through processes, call scripts and company retreats, but through participation, collaboration and incentives. Burt’s Bees incentivizes employees and reinforces the company goal of environmental sustainability in several ways. Employees receive bonuses based in part on how well the company meets jointly established energy conservation goals, and plum parking spots are reserved for those that carpool or drive hybrids to work.

    WHAT THEY GAVE: Nothing really. No additional bonuses were given nor were extra parking spots created.
    Employee buy-in, reduced energy costs, a strong culture of teamwork and conservation, brand authenticity as environmentally friendly.

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  1. Deep Patel March 24, 2009 at 10:09 am #

    great post. I learned something new, never heard about Sunnight Solar, I got my people contacting them already. thanks for the heads up.
    another method to create a socially responsible & profitable company would be to “partner up” with a non-profit who is already pushing a cause forward and add value them by donating your services to help them reach their goals.
    The services you donate could range from human capital,technical advice, procurement assistance and even helping the non-profit use social media and other tools to help raise funds.

  2. admin June 29, 2009 at 12:03 pm #

    Deep, that’s a great way to bring social mission to your business and to contribute. Thanks for mentioning it here! Are you working with any particular nonprofits now? How do you balance that and running your business? Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  3. Auren Tsotis June 29, 2009 at 12:10 pm #

    Your breakdown of methods for incorporating social responsibility into business is really helpful. I have small business that I’m just getting off the ground and social responsibility is very important to me. I’ve been looking for meaningful and simple ways to connect the two. Now, I’ll probably implement employee volunteerism (although there aren’t many of us) and find ways to make our mission and values transparent to our customers and other stakeholders. Thanks for the guidance.

  4. admin June 29, 2009 at 12:14 pm #

    Auren, I love reading comments like yours. My intent with Cause Capitalism is to show companies how they can grow their business by introducing a social mission. Employee volunteerism is a great place to start because you can establish a simple program and it involves your employees in the company mission. Don’t be afraid to let people know about your volunteer program and values. Look for ways to connect your volunteer activities to interest areas for your customers as well.

  5. jonna mae July 3, 2009 at 3:34 am #

    hi miss olivia….i am a 4th year college student…thanks for your post…i learned a lot of things…aside from that i was able to answer my homework about corporate social responsibility….More power!!!!!!!!!

  6. admin July 3, 2009 at 9:53 am #


    So glad the article was helpful–that’s what I aim for. What type of class was the assignment for? Sounds like something I wish I could have taken. Feel free to let me know what other topic areas you’re interested in.


  7. Fariel March 9, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Great presentation miss Olivia. Helped alot with my studies for exams. You stated some really interesting methods to be socically responible as a business. I, one day would like to run a businnes and will definately be taking some advice from here :)

  8. Olivia Khalili March 10, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    Fariel, glad this was helpful. I appreciate your interest in this area.


  9. Lisa Dee June 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    Thanks for a great post! I’m joining forces with a soon to be launched Internet business that is totally socially conscious — I hope that others will understand the true value! With your information, hopefully consumers will begin to understand the impact they can have on a hopefully changing world of business. Some of these companies I was familiar with — what a great idea Timberland had, witty and responsible – what better way to let their consumers know what’s up?

  10. Olivia Khalili July 1, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    Thanks, Lisa. All the best with the new endeavor! I love hearing about new social ventures.

  11. Jen September 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    One concern I have with the BOGO model is that it is bringing aid into a poor economy and seems to not only take away jobs, but require the economy to rely on their aid in the future.

    I wonder if there are ways in which companies could partner with local businesses to build into the economy, create jobs, and encourage independence that are still helpful to the business? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  12. Olivia Khalili September 9, 2011 at 7:12 pm #


    Great thoughts and concerns. Economies don’t operate in isolation so I see ways (whether through supplying or purchasing parts of products, through trade or capacity building partnerships) that external companies can support and provide a benefit to developing economies. But, as you understand, it’s important to proceed with caution and take the time to truly understand how one’s actions can benefit–or not-other economies.

  13. Rajen Govender January 13, 2016 at 2:47 am #

    Good business ideas.My business did not take off. Every thing is in place I require orders.

  14. Alaa Waheed August 16, 2016 at 11:30 pm #

    It is really a Great post, also we can develop that social responsibilities through sponsorship for some social activities and charities events, especially that activities related to the vulnerable groups and communities

  15. Trikle Trade September 7, 2016 at 2:51 am #

    It is really a nice and helpful piece of info. I’m glad that you simply shared this helpful info with us. Thank you for sharing.!!


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