Are Good Deeds Good Business?

By: Jonathan Levi, special to Overdrive

In October 2011, I attended the first ever EO Alchemy as President of the Silicon Valley Chapter. Having just sold my business and completed business school applications, I was completely open and ready to consider new directions and purposes for my next venture.

As I wrote about on my own blog, the experience was deeply transformative for me. By far, my biggest takeaway was a consistent thread, present in the words of everyone from Magic Johnson to John Paul Dejorie. “Doing good is good business. Really good business.” The stories I heard were impressive tales of success and philanthropy, of doing the right thing and creating tremendous value in the process. The second biggest takeaway fit perfectly with this, and came from Biz Stone of Twitter: “Don’t wait till you’ve made it to give back.”

Since then, I’ve spent nearly 2 years traveling and living in Israel, Singapore, and France. Throughout this time, I’ve interned in venture capital, done some consulting, and earned an MBA from INSEAD. Needless to say, I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve come to learn that there’s a strong movement towards the types of corporate involvement described by these luminary entrepreneurs. According to Michael Porter, originator of the famed “Five Forces,” this is a new paradigm called “Creating Shared Value.” Companies today are expected to operate profitably, yes, but they are seeing real and tangible benefits from doing so in ways that benefit the world around them. Examples of this include building public roads to aid supply chain management, operating on cheap, renewable energy, or sourcing locally. Stay with me – this isn’t hippie B.S.. It’s already taking over the strategies of companies like GE, Google, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé, Unilever, and Wal-Mart. These things make financial sense, and save a ton of money. But that’s not all.

There are tremendous benefits to giving back on the customer level. I’m not talking about “greenwashing,” but about visibly and tangibly giving time, money, or products to people who need them. Though I saw this in case study after case study at INSEAD (Merck being a personal favorite), I did some research of my own, surveying a hundred random consumers in the United States aged 18 and older. The results are interesting, to say the least:

Did you catch that?

93% of users surveyed said they would purchase more from a company that did more positive social impact.

Ninety. Three. Percent.

Surely, brands know this, and that’s why Shared Value is so prominent. But who among you can tell me what GE, WalMart, Intel, or Unilever are doing? If consumers want to know about it, and companies are doing it, why the disconnect?

Through extensive interviews, we’ve learned a few things about brands:

  • Some companies just don’t “get it” – they think the traditional advertising messages are still working, and charity is something you do individually
  • Other companies “get it,” but don’t have a safe space to promote this action without sounding gimmicky
  • The average company needs to see some actual return-on-investment, especially if they have investors

So, this is the purpose of my new startup, Zadaqa. Our mission is to convince every consumer-facing company in the world of exactly what Magic and John Paul convinced me of: Doing good is good business.

To do this, we’ve built a platform that allows companies to create engagement campaigns around a chosen cause. Companies invite users to participate in a specific action, for example watching an ad or trying a new product. The catch is, instead of paying NBC or YouTube to air that ad, they donate the same amount to charity.

It sounds crazy, but it’s starting to work. We’ve just launched with some trial campaigns, and we’re seeing a lot of excitement. Consumers want to feel good about the companies they support, and they’re excited to learn about companies supporting the causes they care about. Employees are getting excited and motivated, too. In short, Magic was right.

The question today shouldn’t be “can our company give” or “should we give,” but rather “why aren’t we giving” or “how can we give more?” I know, it sounds nuts, but give it a try. Your first Zadaqa campaign is on me.

Categories: Best Practices EO News FINANCES PR/MARKETING


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