Every Business Needs a Mission that's Bigger than their Brand
I wasn't a CEO, a business guru, or even an executive before I started our company. I was just a sales guy with a product idea. Lucky for me, there's a ton of great resources out there to help you start and scale up a business, but when we decided to build a social mission around our brand, we couldn't find any resources to help us get started.
Building an impact brand was a budding concept in those days. In fact, the Tom Shoes founder, Blake Mycoskie, hadn't even launched his famous "buy a pair, give a pair" business model yet. So we did what all good entrepreneurs do when they're stuck - we set some goals and got to work.
Our initial formula for a social mission was simple:
Pick a single cause to support
Make a financial commitment
As a first step, we recognized the importance of supporting a single cause. If a "house divided cannot stand" then neither can a company divided, right? Second, our financial commitment needed to be predictable and scalable. This was simple for us to accomplish since we hadn't made our first dollar yet, and we didn't have any other money to give. As a result, we chose to give from our excess, devoting 15% of net profit toward our cause. This plan was easy to communicate and forecast. Plus, it protected our growth resources while retaining unlimited impact potential for our cause. It was a good place to start. However, after a few short years, we realized that our giving model resembled a series of charitable donations more than a strategic social mission. Here's what we did wrong, our Social Mission:
Wasn't a part of our daily operations, it was just another expense to manage
Wasn't a part of our company's mission, vision, and values - we rarely celebrated it
Wasn't a part of our "why" (our customers weren't aware of it)
Wasn't a metric we tracked and we hadn't set any goals around it
Wasn't building deeper relationships for our company or with the cause it supported
Our social mission wasn't the problem, we just didn't have a good plan. And without a real giving plan, we were missing the full potential of our impact.
All it took for us to convert our charitable giving into a full scale social mission was the 5-step impact plan that we're still using today. This plan was a game-changer for us, and in addition to the $1.2 million dollars it generated for our cause, we believe it's directly responsible for the thriving team culture we enjoy today.
I've distilled our 5-step impact plan into a one-page template to make sure that everyone interested in building a social business, is equipped with the resources they need to get started.
The 5-Step Impact Plan
We designed our Impact Plan to be a part of our company's DNA. We needed it to be predictable and scalable, while maximizing its impact for our cause and stakeholders. To reach these goals, we identified five areas for execution:
Set your giving model
Create a mission statement
Build a communication strategy
Set up accountability
Establish financial controls
Step 1: Define Your Giving Model
While every giving model is different, it's critically important that you identify an output to your cause for every input to your business. This approach creates a "formula" for your Social Mission that is easy to communicate and commit to over time. In our case, we devote a set percentage of our net income toward our cause and we sponsor a set quantity of children based on the number of perks programs we deliver.
Step 2: Create a Social Mission Statement
Once you've defined a scalable giving model, you'll want to create a social mission statement. You'll find great advice on how to create mission, vision, and values statements in books like Scaling Up, EntreLeadership, and Traction. I'd encourage you to do a deeper dive on this if you haven't written or updated your mission statement in a while. Besides establishing a clear vision for your cause, the most important thing to get "right" is to keep your statement concise so it'll easily fit within your marketing materials.
Here's a template that you may find useful for your social mission statement:
[your belief statement here], and that's why we [summary of your impact plan here]. With this commitment, we're communicating a powerful message,
[your purpose statement here, why you care about your cause].
Here's our Social Mission statement at Abenity: Perks are about people and that's why we 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 a Fortune 500 Company, or an orphan in the developing world, you are valuable, what you do matters, and you can make a difference.
Step 3: Share Your Impact Story I realize that promoting your charitable giving may feel uncomfortable, and in some cases "wrong" - like you're boasting or have insincere intentions. And listen, I believe your personal giving is, and should remain, a private matter. But when it comes to your business, after 13 years of experience in this area, I can confidently say that the benefits you'll experience by openly sharing your organization's support for any cause will dramatically outweigh the discomfort you're feeling today. Creating a social mission around your charitable ambitions provides a core purpose for your brand that is easy to share with your stakeholders (i.e.: employees, investors, clients, and suppliers) as well as your industry. The more people you can rally behind your cause, the greater your impact will become. This is something that I've written extensively about in my article, The Unexpected Perks of a Social Mission. The question that's critically important to answer here is, Who will you trust with the details of your impact plan?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
1) Internal Communication : Create a Social Mission page on your intranet, include your Impact Plan within your onboarding materials and employee handbook, create monthly progress reports, and devote a channel on your internal chat system to your Social Mission.
2) Internal & External Communication: Promote everything listed above, plus include a single slide in your sales presentation, an impact page on your public website, a short segment in your product videos, and after several years of success, publish an Impact Report. You can view our Impact Report here.
Step #4 Accountability Trust is hard to earn, and it's easy to lose. So, while sharing your impact goals with the world around you maximizes your impact potential, it also creates the need for accountability. When your giving is consistent, you'll build trust for your brand and momentum for your cause. However, you'll quickly lose that trust if you fail to follow through on your commitments. Accountability is critical for your impact plan. In this situation, the best accountability partners are the people who have insight into your company's performance and are invested in your Social Mission. (i.e.: owners, investors, c-Suite members, accountants, business coaches, employees, financial advisors, etc.)
Step #5 Blockers (if any) The final step in a successful Impact Plan is to identify any obstacles in the way of your giving goals.
Some common blockers may include:
Not yet being profitable
The need to fund a key initiative, or hire new employees
Investors who require you to give from future profitability, once certain milestones are hit
Blockers are perfectly normal, and they shouldn't prevent you from achieving your goals. Identifying constraints simply allows you to strategically navigate the obstacles you face as you execute your plan.
Once you've identified your blockers, you may begin sharing your Impact Plan with the stakeholders you identified in Step 3.
Your business has the potential to make a massive impact in the world around you. But if you're just making a series of charitable donations, you're leaving a tremendous amount of impact on the table. The quickest way to maximize your impact is to make a plan, and stick to it. To date, our Impact Plan has generated more than $1.2M of direct giving in the fight against global poverty, it's sponsoring the daily needs of 247 children in Senegal Africa, it's providing our team with meaningful work, giving our brand an identity that's bigger than our products, and building a faithful community of purpose-driven leaders around our cause.
I get it - making a long-term financial commitment is a big decision, and it takes guts. But if you're looking for more meaningful work, and you want to maximize your impact, then it's never too late to start a Social Mission. If you're not sold on the idea of a Social Mission, then take a moment to consider these statistics:
689 million people live in extreme poverty today, surviving on less than $1.90 a day.
In the United States, 11.8% of the population or 38.1 million people, live in poverty, with an income of less than $33.26 per day
The numbers are staggering. Real people, like you and me, are behind these statistics. As a business leader, you're uniquely equipped to create and sustain positive change. At Abenity, we truly believe that no matter who you are, or where you're from, you're valuable, what you do matters, and you can make a difference. You've got the resources, and now you've been given the tools, why not start your Impact Plan today?
Let's Talk! I have two questions for you... 1) What cause are you most passionate about? 2) Who will you invite to hold you accountable?
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.