Why Your Mission Should Alienate Some People

When you stand for something, you’re not supposed to please everyone. The misstep of trying to please everybody comes when we don’t stand for something, when we lack an internal drumbeat stronger than the chatter of the crowd.  Most people know that the clothing company Patagonia* gives money to myriad environmental organizations. Fewer people know that the company also gives money to Planned Parenthood. It does so because it aligns with the company’s mission to preserve the planet–in this case by mitigating population growth.

In 1990 Patagonia was targeted by the Christian Action Council for its support of the family planning organization. Thousands of people sent letters pledging never to buy from Patagonia, stores were picketed and even some employees were offended by the values their employer supported.

Patagonia’s solution wasn’t to apologize or reconsider its values and it wasn’t to use roundabout ways to funnel the money to what it cared about.  It was to give more, and to engage opponents in the process. Along with two dozen other companies under attack from the CAC, Patagonia began rewarding every picketer who showed up at a store with a $10 donation to Planned Parenthood in his or her name. The boycott quickly collapsed under the Pledge-a-Picket strategy.In this story, Patagonia wasn’t looking for media attention and it wasn’t trying to win over a new customer demographic. It was simply acting on its mission to protect the environment. It’s the consistency and clarity with which Patagonia does this that makes it a stronger, more recognizable and more appealing company.

What do you stand for that’s so central to who you are or what you do that you’re willing to alienate customers or even antagonize your own employees? If you don’t have a ready answer, are you willing to take the time to suss out or (re)connect with your mission now?

*Author’s note: I write a lot about Patagonia and I’m not about to stop.  Aside from being a phenomenal example of a company with a social mission and having a charmingly heretical leader, I just read “Let My People Go Surfing” on my recent trip through South American Patagonia. The irony was intentional.

* note

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  1. Michael Y April 7, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

    Love your site, Olivia. Finding a lot of great information here. Just one suggestion– links to purchase books like “Let My People Go Surfing” should probably point to Better World Books when possible, no?

  2. admin April 7, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    Michael, good suggestion and I’ll link to books available on BWB from now on. I shyly admit I just learned about BWB last week! Thanks for pushing me to be more socially conscious.

  3. Brooke @ Cause Shoppe April 16, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Wow! Great article. The Pledge-a-Picket idea is genius. Thanks for sharing – I love Yvon Chouinard and you (for many reasons but most recently the “I’m not going to stop” writing about Patagonia comment). Way to stick to your guns sister. Write on… I’m reading!

  4. admin April 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Thanks Brooke. That’s quite a compliment and I’ll happily accept.


  1. Mission Statements for Social Entrepreneurs (From Other Social Entrepreneurs) - April 27, 2010

    […] Stand for something.  Not everyone will care about (or even agree with) your passion.  Not everyone will want to buy your product–and that’s good. We fail when we try to please everyone and end up doing everything poorly.  A mission statement helps you distinguish between new initiatives and demands that fit with your purpose, and those that don’t (no matter how loud or lucrative they are). […]