Being a founder today means you have an obligation to incorporate social purpose into your business. Today, consumers and employees are motivated to support businesses with a mission that goes beyond making money. Ones that are transparent about their sustainability practices and philanthropic efforts. In 2021, your employees, customers, and stakeholders demand it. In fact, 60%+ millennials state that a sense of purpose is a key reason they choose to work for their current employers. By 2045, 75% of the workforce will be millennials who care about more than just a paycheque. Incorporating giving into your mission as a business is non-negotiable. As a founder, I know that it’s easier to implement a charitable mission into your business right from the beginning.
There’s a misconception that incorporating purpose into your business is expensive but purpose can mean so many things, from employee initiatives to give-back programs. Here are a variety of ways you can build purpose into your business.
- Pledge equity to charity: As a founder who wanted to give back, I struggled with how to make an impact when our business Willful, an online estate planning platform, was in its early days and we didn’t have a lot of money to commit to causes. My husband Kevin (who is also my co-founder) suggested pledging to The Upside Foundation, which is an organization that allows you to commit one percent of your company’s equity to charity. In the early days, this costs you nothing, but it means that charitable giving is represented on your cap table before you start raising from external investors and it becomes more difficult to carve out those shares. When you go through a liquidity event, whether an acquisition or an IPO, that turns into a meaningful gift that you can share with the charity of your choice. Over 200 companies have pledged their Upside in Canada, including Willful, and several Upside companies have gone through exits that have resulted in meaningful donations, including Wattpad.
- Give back with your time: Data shows that employees are more engaged when they feel connected to a company’s mission and purpose. When I ran a marketing agency, it was important for us to find ways to support nonprofits, and to leverage the tools at our disposal (namely our marketing expertise) to give back. We offered employees volunteer days (which we also do at Willful), so they could take time to volunteer for causes they cared about (during COVID-19, this has meant volunteering digitally via sites like 10,000 Hours). We also encouraged team members to suggest pro bono projects we could work on for charities, which resulted in us doing pro bono work for non-profits including The Upside Foundation. At a founder level, I commit my time to helping charities. I’m on the board of directors at Save the Children Canada, and I’m the co-chair of the #Tech4SickKids council alongside Quill Inc. founder Fatima Zaidi. Every founder has energy, expertise, and a tireless work ethic, so it’s a natural fit to get involved with causes, vs. just writing a cheque. Companies that integrate corporate citizenship into their business have 2.3 times the employee retention.
- Fundraise thoughtfully: In the early days it can seem impossible to donate even $100 to charity, but as your company grows, look for ways that you can go beyond your time and your equity. As Willful has grown, we’ve looked for opportunities to give back with not just our time, but with our dollars. We’ve gifted our advisory board with Save the Children Canada’s Gifts of Joy at Christmas; we donated to a variety of charities during COVID-19 including food banks and charities benefitting BIPOC communities; and we’ve partnered with charities including the MS Society and Rethink Breast Cancer to donate a percentage of our sales to their causes. We aren’t at the stage where we can donate tens of thousands of dollars a year, but we are making an impact in a small way. One easy way to get your whole team involved is an employee donation-matching program – SickKids for example has a program that allows employers to easily match donations to the #Tech4SickKids campaign, which is raising $25 million from the tech community for a new emergency room.
- Incorporate purpose into your values: There’s a cliche in startups that values are just a poster on the wall, and it’s key to operate every day with those values in mind. We were intentional about setting our values at Willful. They are Empowerment, Empathy, Accountability, Agility, and Purpose. We purposely (pun intended) wanted to incorporate purpose into our values from the start to remind us of why we were building the business (our purpose to help every Canadian get a valid will,) but also to remind us of our social purpose, which is to influence the number of charitable gifts to charity in wills. Since launching in 2017, we’ve helped Canadians leave over 7,000 gifts to charities in their wills—cash gifts alone total over $30 million (if you haven’t considered this, leaving a gift to charity in your will is a very free way to leave a positive legacy while also reducing your final tax bill!) At every town hall, company event, or update I send out, we always highlight one of our values, and we’re constantly revisiting how purpose plays into our company’s mission. Ensuring your values are clearly defined, and that they include some element of purpose, will ensure that it’s in your company’s DNA as you scale.
Giving back is a simple act that will pay dividends in your business. It builds trust with your target consumer but also ensures that you stand for something.
These are just a few of the ways you can have a positive impact while growing your bottom line, and the benefits will include a better ability to attract and retain talent, a more compelling public story, and of course, a positive impact on your community.
Erin Bury is the co-founder and CEO at Willful, a platform that helps Canadians create a legal will online in less than 20 minutes. She is also the co-chair of #Tech4SickKids, and a board member at Save the Children Canada. Find her on Twitter @erinbury.