By: Simon Mainwaring, Forbes
This post is the first in a series of discussions with top corporate leaders around the purposeful initiatives and innovations they shared at the Social Innovation Summit in Los Angeles this June. The Social Innovation Summit is a rallying point for some of the world’s biggest change makers including representatives from Nike, Tesla, Google and more. These companies, business leaders, philanthropists and purpose-driven individuals gather to discuss, collaborate and connect around social, environmental, technological and economic transformation. For this post, I had the chance to chat with Amy Smith, Chief Giving Officer at TOMS, who shared insights on how the brand is transforming itself to innovate and scale its impact.
TOMS is a brand that literally led the rise of the social impact space. After pioneering the one for one giving model, it is now broadening the scope of how it contributes.
“We were looking at consumer insights, and while there was – and still is – a lot of passion around shoe giving – something we are well known for – people were really thinking about what’s happening in their backyards,” TOMS’ Chief Giving Officer explained.
So, TOMS has now launched an impact grants program. The program will build on TOMS commitment to shoes, sight and water to include causes like ending gun violence, homelessness, mental health, equality, women’s rights and more.
“We had to get over our own fear of somehow walking away from One for One — which we’re not doing,” Smith states.
Making such a bold move comes with challenges, risks and opportunities.
“TOMS is committed to progress not perfection. If you wait for circumstances to be perfect before you evolve, the moment will pass. The moment to create real impact will pass — not in all cases, but many cases. So, we are embracing a ‘Build, Learn, Adjust’ model, which is in fact how we’ve always acted.”
While leading with purpose is a critical business driver in today’s business landscape, it must be done authentically. “If you tell a story that doesn’t feel true to the brand, savvy consumers are going to see right through it.” Smith said. “You really have to take the time to think through ‘What is your DNA as a company? And what’s sustainable? What can you continue to invest in and contribute to?’ — You don’t want to do something one-off, just to join the bandwagon.”
To ensure their new impact grants make the most meaningful contributions TOMS, “is investing in giving partners that have sustainable strategies to help them either innovate or leapfrog where they are today,” Smith explained. What’s essential here, she states, “is that you think about the long-term impact of your social good initiatives, not just about next month’s marketing strategy.”
Storytelling is an equally important part of how to build trust and to demonstrate your brand’s authenticity. “Telling stories of individuals who have been impacted the work we are doing in partnership with our giving partners creates an emotional connection with your brand supporter that is a really important part of the equation,” Amy advised.
When consumers feel emotionally connected to your brand and the work they have helped to enable, they are willing to collaborate with you as the company builds a community and larger social movement. TOMS’ recent campaign to end gun violence is a great example of purpose-driven consumer engagement. More than 730,000 advocates used TOMS’ website to send messages to their representatives encouraging them to take action on gun safety. “If you provide a way for people to engage, meet them where they are, provide a simple way to participate and ladder them up the engagement process, you can scale impact,” Amy states. At the same time, TOMS is now enabling consumers to choose a cause to support when they buy any TOMS product. In both cases, they are scaling their impact increasing their ability to generate earned media, creating consumer engagement and goodwill and a strong and impactful brand reputation.
To most effectively scale social impact and business growth, each company must find their own way to contribute to issues that are relevant to their brand in ways that also build their business. In so doing, your brand can set a powerful example to others and its industry. “I would say one of my happiest days will be when a really large company says, ‘Stand aside TOMS, we’re about to give $500 million to this issue,’ Amy shares.
Further, if we really are committed to realizing business as a force for good, we need to find new ways to work together. As Smith states, “a powerful thing we should all be focused on is the collective impact we’re trying to have: how to partner, how to collaborate, how to be part of the ecosystem that it’s going to take to fix some of the challenges accelerating in our world.”
Brands like TOMS and their commitment to challenging themselves to evolve and scale their impact are exemplars of how business must play an increasingly important role of solving for compounding social challenges. The Social Innovation Summit is a critical convening to that end that enables changemakers to come together and find ways to help each other scale business growth and impact. You can see highlights from the event at their Facebook page and look out for more interviews with purposeful leaders from the Summit.