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How to Make Giving Back Part of Your Business Model: Tips from 5 Brands

 

It’s good news when an online brand can drive sales and grow the business–but it’s even better when those profits are used to help others. These five brands are doing both. I reached out to gather their best, most actionable tips for business owners who are considering adding a giving back element to their companies, too.

The Mountain

This eco-friendly apparel manufacturer is focused on green initiatives and giving back to the veteran community. Along with the nearly $100,000 they’ve donated to Operation Hat Trick, a non-profit focused on helping American service members recover from the trauma of battle, they also partner with other organizations for what they call “Purchase with a Purpose” initiatives, in which a portion of each sale goes to a non-profit in need.

When asked what tip they’d give to other brands considering adding a “giving back” element to their business, Colleen Manzi, a member of The Mountain team, said: “Do your homework, and make sure to align yourself with organizations that make sense for your brand. Take the time to understand how they operate, how they distribute funds, and how the public perceives their efforts. When you do select a partner, work closely with them to drive awareness.”

FLEEPS

When Kael Robinson founded a sandal company, she knew she wanted giving back to be part of the company’s core mission. Since launching the online store for FLEEPS, Robinson has been making strides–both in regard to helping at-risk communities and company growth. So far, the company helps employ 100 women in Costa Rica who make the sandals, and has raised around $15,000 for non-profits aimed at helping young women get an education in Kenya, Uganda, and Guatemala.

Robinson recommends that brands thinking about creating a product that has a “give back” component pick something that relates to the company mission. “Choose something that is near and dear to the mission behind the brand–not just the product–and use it as a vehicle to inspire others to make a change in other peoples lives,” she said.

Raven + Lily

Online fashion retailer Raven + Lily recently reported that in 2016, they helped employ more than 1,500 women around the world at fair trade wages, which gives them access to a safe job and a sustainable income, as well as healthcare and education. Their ability to do this comes in part from the brand’s high standards: As members of the Fair Trade Federation, they’ve figured out how to balance their unique production model with demand so that the artisan women remain their key focus.

Keeping that core demographic top-of-mind is essential for any brand considering supporting international artisans, said Marketing Director Eliza Bellock. “Make sure you are passionate about your business and the people or the cause you decide to give back to. It is very easy to lose focus in a competitive environment and it’s important to stay committed to the cause and remember what your true motivation is,” she said.

Askinosie Chocolate

There’s much more than chocolate behind the scenes at Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, Missouri. When Founder Shawn Askinosie left his law career behind to found the company in 2005, he shifted his focus to supporting local farmers and building a brand known for giving back. Today, along with partnering directly with fair trade farmers, the business has created a sustainable feeding program for more than 2,000 children between Tanzania and the Philippines and provided more than a million meals total–which has resulted in improved test and health scores in the children served.

Askinosie’s advice for other brands considering giving back: “Don’t wait for everything to be perfect before you jump in, and don’t think you need a philanthropy department in order to make a change and serve others. Even if you’re one person or one business, that’s plenty.”

Fortress of Inca

2016 was this footwear company’s best year yet sales-wise, and that growth has helped the brand’s philanthropic efforts, too. Fortress of Inca employs more than 100 people in Peru, who, along with steady work, are provided healthcare, paid leave, and retirement funds. Founder Evan Streusand has learned that high-quality materials and treating artisan workers well is worthwhile for his brand’s core consumers–but only when done with the right motivations.

He discourages brands that want to add a “giving back” element as a sales tactic: “If your primary motivation for having a “give back” component to your business is that you think it’ll increase your sales, then you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons. The most sustainable way to give back is to treat your workers well, provide them a nice working environment and pay them a decent living wage. This allows them to provide better lives for their families. It is our view that the people who make our shoes are just as important as the people who buy them,” he said.

 

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