Are You Secretly Running a Social Enterprise?
And How We Made a Million Dollar Impact For Our Cause
My first real job was in an outside sales role. My boss gave me a lot of freedom and creative control. I was surrounded by great people and I quickly grew into a leadership position with a lot of responsibility. But in a few short years, I didn't know why I was working so hard. Ultimately, when times got tough, making good money wasn't a good enough incentive to keep going. So, in 2006, my brother and I launched Abenity.com to bring Fortune 500 perks to companies of any size. From the beginning, we knew we wanted our business to stand for something more than the products and services we would deliver. We wanted to work for something bigger than our product, bigger than our industry, and bigger than ourselves.
We wanted to work for something bigger than our product, bigger than our industry, and bigger than ourselves.
That type of thinking was a novel idea in 2006. For context, that was the same year Blake Mycoskie was inspired in Argentina to launch Tomorrow's (Tom's) Shoes with a buy a pair, give a pair business model. At the time, the world of corporate philanthropy was more of a reactive financial response to charitable needs than a proactive mission, driven by the company's DNA. That's what charities are for, right?
The world of corporate philanthropy was more of a reactive financial response to charitable needs than a proactive mission, driven by the company's DNA.
We wanted to build our business for a greater purpose and make a measurable impact for our cause with every dollar we earned. So we took a leap of faith, and structured our charitable ambitions around a single, unshakeable concept, math. Before we made our first dollar, we committed 15% of net earnings toward the biggest problem we could think of, extreme poverty.
We labeled our Social Mission Perks With Purpose and we began sponsoring children through World Vision in alignment with the United Nations' #1 Goal, eradicating extreme poverty for all people everywhere by the year 2030.
At first, my brother and I kept our charitable goals to ourselves. We felt our corporate giving was a private matter and we didn’t want anyone to falsely interpret our efforts as a marketing hook, or worse, a pompous display of generosity. But as our business grew, we began to realize that our modesty was holding back the full potential of our impact, and we were secretly running a social enterprise. In retrospect, it’s clear that our biggest successes — the kind of achievements that landed us on the INC 5000 list for six consecutive years and blasted our Social Mission past our million dollar giving goal — all happened after we began publicly sharing our cause with the world around us.
We were secretly running a social enterprise, and it was time for us to share it with the world around us.
In 2014, we took a bold step and publicly connected our Social Mission with our services by publishing the following statement in our website, videos, and marketing materials:
Perks are about people
We're proud to sponsor children living in extreme poverty with the programs we deliver.
With this commitment, we're communicating a powerful message - that whether you're an employee at one of the largest companies in America or an orphan in the developing world:
YOU are valuable, what YOU do matters, and YOU can make a difference.
What started as a personal desire to find purpose outside of ourselves, transformed our business into the mission-driven company we are today. Without realizing it, our Social Mission created a deeper relationship with our customers and developed a team of purpose-driven leaders with the fortitude to overcome any adversity that threatens our calling. I write about this more in my article, The Unexpected Perks of A Social Mission.
To date, Abenity's impact fund has provided over one million dollars of support toward efforts to eradicate extreme poverty by the year 2030. You can view a full overview of our impact to date within our Impact Report.
The projects we've supported provide countless children with access to clean water and education for life. They've equipped accountable entrepreneurs with micro-finance capital to acquire key resources including goats, chickens, refrigeration, bicycles, and sewing machines. We are also sponsoring more than 245 children every month, meeting their basic needs for nutrition, healthcare, and education. Sponsorship provides us with a unique opportunity to connect with every child, letting them know that they're unconditionally loved, they are valuable, what they do matters, and they can make a difference for future generations.
Sponsorship provides us with a unique opportunity to connect with every child, letting them know that they're unconditionally loved, they are valuable, what they do matters, and they can make a difference for future generations.
Going public with our social mission was one of the best decisions we made. On top of deepening my relationship with my brother / business partner, this new level of transparency gave our employees a sense of purpose at work, differentiated our product in the marketplace, and created a stronger bond with our customers.
And while there were many unexpected perks we discovered from starting a social business, here's the bottom line, you're never going to regret choosing to become more generous or having more meaningful work. So what's holding you back? Is it a tough conversation with your business partner or maybe your boss? Or does sharing your company values with the world around you feel too risky? Whatever holds you back, think about the opportunities you are missing, the total impact being lost, and decide for yourself if the potential risks truly outweigh the potential rewards.
Let's Talk! I have two questions for you...
1) Are you secretly running a social enterprise?
2) Is it time for your brand to take stand for something that’s bigger than your product, bigger than your services, and even bigger than your industry?
About the Author: Brian Roland is a social entrepreneur and Founder of Abenity, the 6x Inc. 5000 company that's powering corporate perks for top brands like U.S. Bank and Mastercard. While Abenity provides millions of subscribers with private discounts, the company's social mission is fighting extreme poverty with every program they deliver. Abenity recently exceeded $1 million dollars of total giving and hired a CEO to accelerate growth with their fully remote team. Brian lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his family and enjoys roasting coffee, flying drones, and helping impact-driven entrepreneurs establish a social mission of their own.