Have fun, make money, change the world

Let’s have a look at charities and their crumbling fundraising model. It’s one that’s dying in a sea of apathy, a limited capacity for self-sacrificing philanthropy, and an epidemic of thirsty causes out there. I am constantly bombarded during my evening dose of Friends reruns with images of war-torn, disaster-torn, famine-torn, drought-torn, and AIDS-ravaged countries; disturbing clips of abuse victims; emaciated dogs and orphans; and the neglected elderly. So much so that I have to catch myself from feeling annoyed and these pleas for empathy and a fiver preventing me from finding out- again- who the father of Rachel’s baby is.

It’s a sad reality that we are becoming ever more desensitised to it. But, we the habituated are not entirely to blame; it is a survival mechanism. The truth is that we are overwhelmed and impotent. The individual donator can only buy so many big issues, donate so many three pounds a month, and there is definitely a finite amount of wall space to hang up WWF calendars. If the average human were to try and truly empathise with and acknowledge the spiritually necrotising quantity of sorrow that is experienced by people around the world, they would probably hurl themselves off of a bridge or drink a vat of battery acid.

I believe we have a case of circumstance and opportunity. We have a culture of business that has been type-cast as the villain in an unfortunate percentage of recent cinema and a dearth of funding for a mitotic body of desperate causes. Our consumers are lazy and are simultaneously becoming increasingly emotionally stunted and more socially conscious. In an era of predatory marketing tactics we have developed a phobic aversion to form-filling, the words ‘for just a bit extra’, and people in public spaces asking us for just a moment of our time. It calls for a drastic change in strategy.

Consumer choice. Create a model that only asks their customers’ to choose your pizza or cocktail bar because you will use a portion of your profits to fund a worthy cause. You do the donating bit for them. There’s no extra cost and it’s goodwill you can capitalise on. So many of these markets are saturated up to the eyeballs. To break into most of them as a start-up requires an edge that is hard to come by in product-centric terms- really, there is only so good that a pizza can possibly be. It’s charitable, not charity. Profit is integral because you need to eat, and the more the business grows so will its philanthropic impact. It creates a sustainability and growth that is lacking from traditional charity models.

People are clamouring for guilt free spending. Their willingness to single handedly solve all of the world’s problems is limited by their desire to use their funds to engage in less depressing activities, like golf. There is still plenty in the world to be depressed about. With all that other stuff going on, all they want to do is buy a coffee that doesn’t kill a panda or violate the rights of the indigenous people of Guyana.

Another critical aspect of the scheme now is the cause of choice. What needy project should your designer t-shirts champion? The key to increasing the attractive value of your product with this marketing tool is to minimise the perceived effort involved in contributing anything and maximise the resulting outcome from participation. Big companies do this kind of thing already: take fair trade bananas that help to finance the agricultural practices of local people in banana-growing countries. They’re not asking me to pay anything extra in a glaringly evident way, but I quite like the idea that by just buying my bananas I am funding the dreams of a struggling farmer somewhere. With smaller businesses trying to develop a relationship with the local clientele, finding a smaller and/or local cause to invest in would be a smarter way of using this model to generate goodwill. One, it’s probably one that your clients or customers can relate to in a more intimate way if it’s on their doorstep rather than somewhere they can’t even pronounce. Two, as a small business your contribution towards buying food for the local animal shelter will probably yield more significant results than any success you might have in funding the primary sector of a distant third world country. Tangible results are something you can showcase and market, ultimately increasing the feeling of contribution that your participating buyers will experience. The aim is to use that feeling to foster customer loyalty and build a positive interaction that extends beyond the realms of whatever it is you’re peddling.

People do it already. You’ve got the triple bottom line, fair trade and pay it forward as evidence of that. But, it is a marketing tool that has been underexploited, underexplored and underutilised. People should be innovative in the way they exploit the sentimental nature of their clients. Exploit is a slimy word that brings Jimmy Savile-like sleazes and child labour to mind. But, people should be concerned about the impacts of their consumerism and businesses should proactive to address that and adapt accordingly. I have no problem with companies profiteering because they do more for their communities than the next conglomerate. Exploit away if the result is less hungry children, less homeless abuse victims and less cloudy cataracts. I should be basing my purchasing choices on who does the most good, not on who pisses least on the world around me.

I could call it competitive philanthropy.

How does this relate to IU?

In a career there are three goals you can have: to have fun, to make money, and to change the world. With most jobs you accomplish one, if you’re lucky you might get two. The pursuit of a charitable twist to the business model is a different way I think the trifecta could be achieved. Beyond the consumer application, the philanthropic appeal was originally conceived by a miserable 20 year old sitting in an even more miserable internship a year ago desperate for career satisfaction. As an undergraduate I was certifiably morose at the prospect of a career in London- other than the dress code I struggled to draw a distinction between corporate life and sweatshops.

IU is Che Guevara leading a band of start-ups and change seekers conducting guerrilla warfare in a forest of old school business philosophy. There’s no doubt in my mind that profit is an objective with these guys; but they’re absolutely dogmatic about happiness. They want to revolutionise the workplace experience for the better. The way they’re doing it is by chucking hierarchy out the window, cultivating a culture of self-government and placing an emphasis on innovation in everything they do- it’s all rather exciting. The job-satisfaction that comes out of incorporating philanthropy integrally into a business’s output is something that resonates deeply with the ideals upon which IU was built. I’m not alone in my desperation; the dread is shared.

If teams like IU keep going the way they’re going, I predict an exodus of talent in the not too distant future. Malevolent multi-nationals beware.

This article was written by Hal Sherrington during his two week internship at IU.