Blurring the lines between charity and entrepreneurship

In the past, it was relatively easy to define the difference between charity and entrepreneurship.

Charities focus on giving back to their communities, while entrepreneurs focus on making money.

But the lines between these seemingly opposite industries are beginning to blur. More and more companies have increased their philanthropic giving and involvement in social justice. And more nonprofits and charities are embracing the branding and product placement traditionally offered by for-profit corporations.

Most recently in the US, many of the world’s largest companies – Google, Amazon, GM and Starbucks, among hundreds of other companies – joined a petition telling Congress they oppose any “discriminatory legislation” when several states passed restrictive ones considering new electoral laws,” that would make voting more difficult.

The changes do not end with political participation either.

Charities and the e-commerce industry are closely intertwined for many businesses, and this is especially true when those businesses have a socially engaged customer base.

That’s often the case with brands that focus on spirituality and wellness, but it’s also generally true for the younger generations, the majority of whom say they want the brands they support to make a positive difference in society make world.

In a somewhat novel approach called “cause marketing,” brands are weaving charity into almost every part of their business model, using “causes” to drive analytics, acquisitions, and targeting.

This approach often includes donation options when customers complete their purchase on an ecommerce site, giving them a good feeling about their purchase and the company they bought it from. It also expands the company’s reach through positive press and word of mouth, as well as data mining that improves the company’s ability to target marketing.

Another example of these blurred lines is “social for-profit enterprise”.

As described in a Forbes column, a traditional social enterprise does not focus on returns on capital, but rather on social justice and welfare.

For-profit social enterprises are built on traditional business principles, and profitability is always a key goal. As the column states, “Everyone served by the organization is a paying customer.”

Social entrepreneurs say that by paying a small fee, customers get more equality with the company – something that’s often missing in traditional charity models.

Anant Kumar, the founder of LifeSpring, a maternity hospital that provides healthcare to India’s poorest women, sees himself as a social entrepreneur.

“Think about a charity,” Kumar said in the Forbes article. “You’re really doing the recipient a favour. You are the donor. You are the recipient. So they are not on the same level. If you are not at the same level, there is an accountability gap.”

Kumar isn’t the only person embracing this new trend of “social entrepreneurs.”

One of the largest non-profit organizations in Canada, WE Charity was founded by two entrepreneurs, brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger.

Both Marc and Craig Kielburger have business degrees, bestselling books on the relationship between charity and business, and frequently deliver inspirational speeches to the thousands of people involved in their organization.

The brothers brought this entrepreneurial spirit to their charity, originally called Free the Children and later renamed WE Charity.

In their books and keynote addresses to thousands of supporters, the Kielburgers often address the positive impact that is possible when socially conscious leaders combine the best ideas of entrepreneurship with the altruism that drives the most successful charities.

“What if purpose is the game-changing differentiator that gives products an edge?” said Craig Kielburger. “Purpose can be inspiration for a new venture, but it can also be used to retrofit an existing product while making a tangible social impact for consumers to see.”

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