The Key to Brands Finding the Right Social Purpose

By Josh Wood, Founder and CEO, JWP

I’ve been in event production for more than 20 years, designing and creating events big and small — for a few dozen or a few thousand. And almost every event I’ve organized has had a social impact partner — an organization or a cause that received part of the event proceeds to be used for the common good. These productions have generated millions of dollars for nonprofits or social purpose organizations.

I grew up in an activist family. My mother was passionate about women’s rights. Today, in addition to my events business, I work to support organizations that advance freedom. I think it’s part of being a good citizen. If you have a platform, you also have a responsibility.

Over the years — and especially now — clients and marketing executives for influential brands often ask if having a social purpose is important (yes!) and how to find the right one.

Why do I need to align with a social purpose?

In today’s hyper competitive market for customer loyalty and market differentiation, all brands can benefit from working with and being connected to a social purpose. In the simplest terms, it’s good for business – your potential customers will like it. In a recent AFLAC study presented by Harvard Business School, 77% of consumers said they were motivated to support companies committed to making the world a better place.

Plus, your team will feel good about it. It can make it easier to attract top talent to help with the effort; a performer or influencer perhaps, who may be willing to participate at a reduced fee if they know some of the proceeds are going to help others.

How do I find the right cause or organization?

Start by making a list of causes that have a natural connection to your brand’s DNA. Ask your employees, colleagues, founders and shareholders what they’re passionate about.

Then, do your research. A Google search will likely reveal a lot about the organizations you’re considering. Stay away from controversy — organizations that have had bad relationships with their employees, for example. You should also check a public nonprofit database like GuideStar (which rates organizations on their effectiveness, often the percentage of revenue that is used programmatically versus on marketing and fundraising). I think it’s better to pick an organization that is a direct service provider, rather than one that offers grants. Finally, look at what your competitors and others are doing in adjacent spaces for ideas. Don’t be a copycat but it might help you brainstorm.

How do I make sure there is an authentic connection?

The nonprofit or cause you select should make obvious sense to your customers and employees. Pick a cause that is already aligned with your target audience. For example, my early dance parties for the gay community benefited gay rights or HIV related causes. Make sure that the mission of the nonprofit or social purpose organization is consistent with your company’s values (and make sure you have written, well-articulated values).

For example, an oil company should probably not sponsor an environmental group. But an organic food company could be a good sponsor. And once you have found that authentic connection, embrace it with all your creativity and imagination.

How do I avoid offending people, especially clients?

Realize that you may have to take some risks — but make them smart ones. Culturally there is a lot of division right now and not everyone is going to agree on anything.

What you and your team think is a good cause may offend others. But taking a stand will earn you credit with most people, even on controversial issues, so long as you keep the messaging upbeat and positive. And it can create a strong connection to your customers and employees. If you’re not willing to take any risks, this might not be the space for you.

Got a Question? We’ve Got Answers.