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Build a Socially Responsible Business

Adding a philanthropic cause to your business isn't just a feel-good endeavor these days. Doing good also makes customers open up their wallets.

"What pisses you off?"

That's the first question Erin Giles, an up-and-coming coach to entrepreneurs, asks her clients. Giles's niche is helping female entrepreneurs find ways to work philanthropy into their businesses. The best way, she's found, to figure out what a person truly cares about is to find out what makes that person really, really angry.

Whether it's global warming or homelessness, if an individual is passionate about a cause, Giles can then help them channel that passion into their business or non-profit endeavor. And it works: According to Giles, 79% of customers will switch to your brand if it has some sort of do-good mission built in.

When we saw Giles, who is based in South Carolina, featured on one of our favorite design sites, Design*Sponge, we were intrigued. At Altruette, our business is built around philanthropy (each of our charms benefits one of more than 35 non-profits). We were curious to learn more about other ways women were working philanthropy into their business models and how "coaching" was helping them do so.

For Giles, who had been working at a literacy non-profit, her own revelation came after watching a documentary about global sex trafficking. Outraged, she remembered a campaign called End Malaria Day and wondered if she could create something similar. She quickly enlisted 60 writers to contribute essays and raised $10,000 online in 30 days to get a book published. The book, called End Sex Trafficking, will be released on End Sex Trafficking Day (September 26, 2012). Giles had taken a business-coaching course and had been considering a career shift. The success of her campaign gave her the push she needed to start her own coaching business with a focus on philanthropy.

Giles's clients primarily find her on her website or through Twitter ("my biggest networking tool," she says). Her four-week online course combines video and audio lessons, live group chats, and homework that's turned in via Facebook documents.

Of her current crop of "mentees," one woman is developing an app called "The Create Change App" which will be everything you needed to know about upcycling (type in shower curtain get ideas for how to repurpose your old one such as turn it into a kite for your kids). Another client, Share Ross, the ex-bass player from the band Vixen, is creating a philanthropic project called Girls, Guitars and Guts. Her first project is planning a one-day event for teen girls that will inspire, motivate, and of course, rock.

Giles's main advice is that when pairing any sort of business endeavor with philanthropy, the most important thing you can do is be authentic. Explain to your customers what your passion is and why you feel so strongly. Create an emotional connection through your story that they want to be a part of. She also cautions that even if you're starting small, you should dream big.

"So many people think that if they're not making millions they can't give back." Not true, says Giles. Her advice is to try and give from Day 1. She cites her own experience raising $10,000.

"When I took this on I was making hardly anything," she says. "But I could still give--I gave my time."

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Last updated: Jul 24, 2012

LEE CLIFFORD AND JULIE SCHLOSSER | Columnist | Co-founders, Altruette

Lee Clifford and Julie Schlosser are the co-founders of Altruette. They make a line of classic charms that each benefits one of 35 different charities. Previously, they were both editors at Fortune magazine.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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