Should You Tie Your Brand to a Philanthropic Cause?
BY Shazi Visram
There are pros and cons to tying your start-up to a philanthropic cause but it's worth the risk if your intentions are authentic.
You have to be passionate about what you do. Life is simply too short to waste your valuable time on anything else (and trust me, when you're starting a business, your time becomes that much more valuable to you, as you notice that it starts to disappear. Quickly.)
When I started Happy Family, I had a passion for both improving the way babies are fed in this country; and--fresh out of business school and (therefore) bright-eyed--building a business that creates positive change from all aspects of the business. Social responsibility comes in many forms: supporting sustainable agriculture, being aware of the business's carbon footprint, and giving back. All of these aspects of the socially responsible business matter, and all of them were not only a priority but also a necessity for me from the get go.
The philanthropic aspect of socially responsible business was especially important to me, as my father grew up in Africa. When I was growing up, I heard stories about the dirt floor in his house and the scarcity of food and fresh water.It was easy for me to imagine being raised under these circumstances instead of my home in Alabama, where flooring, food, and fresh water were taken for granted. And when I was 12, I actually had the opportunity to visit the places where my father grew up. This experience hit home for me in a totally new way. I saw the children in this environment and felt enormously lucky to be born me, where I was born, as I easily could have been born here and had a completely different life--a life where starting an organic superfoods company may not have even crossed my mind. In starting Happy Family, I wanted to create abundance and give back, not just push product to anyone who would take it.
The pros and cons (or I should say con? ) of tying your brand to a philanthropic cause are closely related from a business perspective. If you're starting a company, you probably don't have significant amounts of money just laying around--if only you could find something to do with it! No, unfortunately, that's not how it usually works. It's difficult to commit to give back to a philanthropic cause when you are struggling to pay the bills. This is, of course, the one big con of giving back, especially when you're starting out; but I have found that the pros far outweigh the con.
From the beginning, both customers and investors believed (and rightly so) that the Happy Family brand was sincere. We don't just want to feed the babies who can afford organic. We want to create the most innovative products that are always organic but also at the most accessible price point, feeding as many babies as possible, and making a real difference in the development of truly underprivileged children. This is why Happy Family partners with Project Peanut Butter. For every time a customer buys our products, they are also helping to feed a starving child in Malawi or Sierra Leone.
As you build a brand, gaining the public's trust is a challenge. Happy Family's very real relationship with Project Peanut Butter has given people yet one more reason to trust the brand, and not just due to the fact we are giving back but because we honestly care about making a difference. This trust has led to increased sales, and it has attracted investment from the right partners. Plus, the whole Happy Family team gets to be a part of giving back, and that helps to create happy employees, and happy employees make a (wait for it...) Happy Family.
I chose Project Peanut Butter because their work combined two aspects about which I'm extremely passionate: creating a sustainable standard of living in Africa and improving children's nutrition. Project Peanut Butter aligned with both my personal beliefs and the goal of Happy Family: to revolutionize the way babies, toddlers, and children are fed around the world.
SHAZI VISRAM is the founder and CEO of HAPPYFAMILY, the leading premium brand of baby and toddler meals in the U.S. HAPPYFAMILY is sold in over 13,000 stores with 9 different lines of optimally delicious organic foods. @shaziv