How Your Startup Can Change the World: The 5 Keys to Social Entrepreneurship

Everyone knows a charitable pursuit can impact a significant number of people and provide great personal satisfaction. However, the entrepreneurial opportunity lies in its ability to motivate and inspire other people to help you.

The truth is, if you want to do something huge, then combining your entrepreneurial ambition with a charitable endeavor will dramatically increase your odds of success.

From a social goods perspective, this means tying philanthropy to consumerism. The idea is to create products that harness the power of community to change the world. By connecting the product to a charity, the business will often increase sales, the charity will raise needed funds, and consumers will receive a product that satisfies both a functional and philanthropic purpose. In theory (and often in practice), it is a win-win-win situation.

It’s not surprising then that social entrepreneurship is a growing trend.

I was fortunate to work with such a business as it launched. Our product is called the 1:Face Watch and we launched on Indiegogo on Oct 1. During our 50-day campaign, we raised $357,983, making us the 2nd most successful fashion crowdfunding project ever (behind only Kickstarter’s Ministry of Supply). From just those initial contributions, we will impact over 57,000 lives. Equally important, we brought awareness of our 6 global causes to over 200,000 people and there are now 10,000 people who, when they check the time, are reminded of their own potential to change the world.

You can replicate this success in your business by following these 5 keys to social entrepreneurship:

1. Capture attention with visuals and numbers.

You will catch people’s attention with visually appealing imagery. This begins with the product’s physical design. Many successful social goods are minimal, keeping focus on the cause. However, there is often an aspect of the design that makes it bold, prompting people to comment. This brings a natural virality to the product, further helping spread awareness for its cause.

Once you have the product, invest in high quality images and videos. These should build a story around your core belief and connect the product to the cause. The more you can create, the better.

Numbers are powerful. Use numbers to explain the scope of the problem, to show the impact one person can make, and to describe the change the community has made so far.

These tools — design, images, videos, and metrics — build your culture. They convey the importance of your cause and the urgency to act, especially to those who aren’t directly impacted by it.

For a good use of visuals and numbers, see Charity:Water.

TOMS shoes as an example of simple, yet bold product design.

2. Educate about the cause, don’t sell the product.

It’s important to understand why we (consumers) buy social good products. We are not buying just for the cause. If that were our sole motivation, we would donate to the charity directly. We are also not buying for the product, because in most cases there are other products — often of higher quality or less expensive — we could purchase instead.

So what are we buying? What differentiates a social good product?

Whenever we donate to a cause, there is an intrinsic personal gratification we receive as a reward. A social good product embodies this emotional reward. It now becomes a token of our good deed, a representation of our own charitable beliefs. When we wear it or hold it, we are reminded of the person we want to be.

This shifts the entire context of our purchasing decisions and should change the way businesses engage with their customers. Our marketing and copy should educate about the cause, not sell the product. Show me the problem, tell me how I can help, and then inspire me to remember.

Figs does this very well.

3. Give customers a STORY to share.

“My watch fed 16 children” is a much stronger story than “50% of the proceeds from my watch purchase went to charity.” Likewise, customers of Warby Parker would rather say that they provided a pair of glasses to someone in need than say their purchase equated to a $15 charitable donation.

Focus on the results, not the donation. Make it clear how consumers have impacted the cause. Don’t simply enable people to donate money; empower them to donate actions — feed a child, quench a thirst, help find a cure. Then, connect it back to the big picture. How much change has your supporting community provided? Demonstrate the good your customers have done.

Use stories, pictures, and tweets from customers to foster this sense of community. Then, find stories and metrics from the community that will excite people and make it as easy as possible for everyone to share them. The presence of a community will not only keep customers engaged well beyond the initial purchase, but provide a very effective vehicle to spread the word about your cause.

A good story encourages people to share it. Give customers that story and they’ll join your marketing effort.

Project7 is a good example of this.

4. Find your target market on social media.

A few weeks prior to launching the 1:Face campaign, we created an Instagram account. By launch day, we had over 5,000 followers. To date, we have over 15,000. We grew this following by posting images that represented the culture of our brand. People felt a connection and it developed into a community of people who are as passionate about our product and our causes as we are.

If your product is visually appealing, you should be building a loyal following on Instagram and Pinterest. If you aren’t, you are leaving a huge opportunity on the table.

Look at how Sevenly and 1:Face portray their brand culture through Instagram.

5. Get reputable charity partners

Partner with charities that share your belief and compliment your product. Having reputable charities backing your mission not only provides credibility and authenticity, but also support and resources.

Check out this Q&A with cause-marketer Joe Waters that further explains the benefits of these partnerships.

Go to CharityNavigator or CharityWatch for help when researching non-profit partners.

Bonus: Dream Big

Today, being socially conscious is considered a competitive advantage. But why isn’t it the norm?

In 2011, it was estimated that Americans spent $10.7 trillion shopping. As entrepreneurs, we have the potential to harness this collective power of consumer behavior for social good. By making socially conscious business the norm, we can create a sustainable source of change on a massive scale.

So, dream big because you do have the power to change the world. And the best part is, you have the opportunity to bring every one of your customers along for the ride.

Is there a socially conscious component to your business? If so, what lessons have you learned?

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