Social entrepreneurship provides touchstone for positive corporate culture
Taking into account the intense focus and dedication required to get a startup off the ground, entrepreneurs occasionally get “business tunnel vision,” focusing too heavily on the business logistics of their ventures. While it’s obvious a healthy amount of business sense is required to run a successful company, it’s not all that is needed.
Promoting a positive corporate culture can provide fledgling businesses with a bevy of oblique advantages, from providing a moral hook that attracts talented employees to offering incalculable exposure through word-of-mouth praise. One of the simplest ways for startups to avail themselves of these benefits is by participating in social entrepreneurship, which enables businesses to give back to the communities that helped create them; social entrepreneurs donate a share of their profits, equity and time to philanthropic foundations and causes.
“it’s important to define your corporate culture, and your company’s commitment to philanthropy is part of that,” said Lateef Johnson, whose experience with social entrepreneurship began with SalesForce.com out in San Francisco, but now hopes to apply the same model to his Lincoln startup Deckerton. “You want that to be communicated and replicated throughout your company, and the best way is to make it a priority from the very beginning. Startups have a unique opportunity to define their culture very early in terms of their commitment to the community.”
SaleForce.com adheres to a straightforward strategy called the 1/1/1 model. That is, the company has pledged to donate 1 percent of its employees’ time to volunteer at charitable organizations, 1 percent of its product to non-profits and 1 percent of its equity toward philanthropic causes. The company also launched a web site called The Power of Us with the goal of educating and inspiring new entrepreneurs to follow in the corporation’s charitable footsteps.
That 1 percent of employee’s time netted an average of six days worth of charity work per person, which provided SaleForce.com with plenty of positive promotion. The charity work became an incentive for recent college graduates to seek employment at the company.
“As a (SaleForce.com) recruiter, I experienced a lot of those benefits firsthand,” Johnson said. “Young people coming out of college were really excited about the company. Yeah, we were growing quickly and those sorts of things, but what really enthused those kids was our commitment to philanthropy. My being able to say with all honesty that employees were able to use company time for taking trips to give food to the poor or to clean up beaches really appealed to them.”
Here in Lincoln, Johnson is upping the ante with his own twist on the SaleForce.com philanthropic paradigm, a self-explanatory improvement he calls the 2/2/2 model. Currently, 2 percent of his company’s outstanding shares have been set aside for a Deckerton Foundation. Once those shares increase in value, Johnson hopes to put them toward helping Lincoln children.
“The best advice I can give to startups interested in engaging in corporate philanthropy is to collaborate,” he said, encouraging entrepreneurs to check out The Power of Us web site. “One thing about people who are interested in philanthropy or non-profits is that they love to work together. They want to share their stories, or help you or talk about their model; they’re really interested in sharing their experience.”
And oftentimes, working toward the greater good can be a business model in and of itself. Mission Bean Coffee, a non-profit launched in 2008 as an extension of and source of financing for People’s City Mission, has been incredibly successful, mostly due to the vibrant connection the company generates between purchasing coffee and helping the less fortunate.
“We change the meaning of consumption, turn it into an experience that has spiritual value added,” said Pastor Tom Barber, People City Mission’s executive director. “But the fact remains we’re solving social problems through entrepreneurship, and the dynamics of that are the same as running a business. We’re using the exact same business principles — there’s no difference in the process. The end result is different, but I consider myself as much of an entrepreneur as any business owner out there.”