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Benefit your startup by doing more than just “aligning” with a cause

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Paul Polizzotto on Entrepreneur.com has an interesting post. He suggests there’s 4 ways your startup can benefit by aligning with a cause. We’d suggest that you can benefit more than just your startup if you go beyond and make a cause your own. Or go further: benefit society by building a social purpose into your startup.

Polizotto’s analysis is pretty simple: there are four key ways your startup business can benefit by aligning with a cause. They’re short and simple:

  1. It helps you connect with consumers
  2. It creates social media momentum
  3. It builds a strong company culture
  4. It helps you motivate yourself

While I¬†certainly don’t think that any of these four key benefits are incorrect in and of themselves, I do think that his analysis moves pretty darned close towards the realm of “corporate social responsibility,” or worse yet, a pure and simple public relations gambit. Indeed, he suggests that “charitable initiatives” are “easy to share” and can create positive buzz about your brand.


We’ve written on the blog about the danger of defining defining social enterprise as tossing mere fractions of a percent of annual revenue towards charity. What Polizotto suggests, here, is even more dangerous: hopping onto the goodwill of a charitable initiative to build buzz around your brand.

Bad, bad idea. Bad!

As a communications specialist, I’d warn you strongly against this if you were contemplating this tactic for building your brand. Brands that make “pink” products to support breast cancer charities are increasingly coming under fire because it turns out many of the products may themselves contain carcinogens – and that’s a complex link to make for a consumer not paying attention to details. Imagine how much worse it could be for your brand if it came out that you were promoting charitable initiatives simply to build your own brand.

Yes, it’s a way that many brands contribute to the community, and it’s a way that many brands can donate funds in exchange for advertising. That doesn’t make it right — and it certainly doesn’t make it a suggested tactic.

If you are in a position where you’re thinking that aligning your brand with a social purpose is a good opportunity for your startup organization, then I’d encourage you to think about going further than that. Think about how you can take that cause and make it the core of your business. If you want some help brainstorming these potentials, get in touch – I’ll be happy to go through a social enterprise planning consultation for you. We even offer 30 minute consultations completely free of charge – by Skype, in person, or even by email.

But if you don’t think your business idea is ready to go all-out social enterprise, then you need to think carefully about doing what many would see as a plain attempt to curry PR favour by promoting yourself alongside a charitable initiative. There’s better ways to do this – by encouraging your employees to volunteer, by donating staff time to support initiatives, and more (and we can help you imagine this for a corporate culture building programme) – just don’t make it look like an opportunistic PR move.

One thing we do agree with in Polizzotto’s analysis is that aligning your company with a social cause can create strong company culture. This is pretty true: it can help your employees connect a higher cause with their day-to-day job and see ways to make both succeed. Indeed, we love companies with built-in volunteer and community engagement programs. (We can help build yours.) But again, don’t make it opportunistic. Make it genuine.

About Kevin Harding

Kevin Harding is a principal of the Incipe Cooperative, and is a volunteer board member of the Art for Impact Society. He has worked in the nonprofit, public, and cooperative sector for some time, and has a passion for working with coops, nonprofits, and advocacy groups that want to make a better world. A coop developer, he strongly believes that cooperatives can build a better world.

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