This post is sponsored by PayPal.
Many entrepreneurs want to improve the world around them while expanding their companies.
Having a social mission can be one of the most rewarding aspects of starting an e-commerce business, but it’s not as simple as writing a check to your favorite charity at the end of the year.
Small-business owners who give back stress the importance of adaptation and the need for accountability. At the same time, working with nonprofit partners can help a company reach more customers. Here are a few tips from small businesses that have successfully incorporated social missions into their business models.
Tip #1: Be flexible in how to best serve your cause
“Understand that being socially responsible in an effective way relies on evolution, not revolution,” says Jeffrey Malkoon, founder of Peanut Butter Americano, a business he formed with the goal of supporting impoverished people in Latin America after spending time volunteering in Uruguay.
Malkoon started by donating the profits from one of his flavors of peanut butter to a Latin American charity, but as his business grew, he realized he could have a greater impact by forming his own foundation. This approach gives him more flexibility and control to channel his support where it will be most effective.
“As an entrepreneur with a social mission, you have to be prepared to evolve your mission over time in order to provide the maximum benefit to the cause you are seeking to support,” says Malkoon.
The takeaway: Don’t be afraid to change course if you see an opportunity to have a greater impact on your cause as your business grows.
Tip #2: Embrace accountability
As you tend to the day-to-day needs of your small business, you might find it increasingly difficult to monitor the activities of the charities you support, but it is important to do so for the sake of your reputation. Websites like charitynavigator.org can help you evaluate the effectiveness of various nonprofits.
Pura Vida, which sells bracelets made by Costa Rican artisans, supports about 165 different causes, ranging from cancer research to beach cleanup. Founders Paul Goodman and Griffin Thall began working with One Percent for the Planet, a network of businesses and nonprofits that support environmental causes.
“If anyone questions what we are doing, we can point them to that third party,” Goodman says. “They hold us accountable.”
Goodman and Thall have also hired an in-house charity-relations manager who researches charities to make sure they meet the company’s standards.
The takeaway: Take responsibility for your charitable activities. Working with an outside organization that provides accountability can help.
Tip #3: Enlist the support of your nonprofit partners
In addition to allowing you to advance a cause you believe in, working with a nonprofit can build goodwill for your company. Don’t be afraid to highlight your philanthropic efforts.
Chances are that the charities you support have considerable outreach efforts of their own, and they may be willing to help your business. Supply these partners with your marketing collateral, and consider asking them to link to your website from theirs.
At Pura Vida, part of the job of the in-house charity manager is to work with the nonprofits it supports to promote the company’s bracelets.
The takeaway: Social enterprise doesn’t have to be all give and no take. Don’t be afraid to ask for a little help for your own business when lending your support to charitable causes.