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When Jay Wilkinson was 15 years old, he was elected to serve on the student council of his small town Nebraska high school and was coerced into attending a four-day leadership camp. While there, he latched onto a sign that hung on the wall—a quote from Stephen Grellet that says “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” Jay recalls daydreaming on the four-hour drive home that someday he’d start a company based on that very sentiment.
Today, as the CEO of Firespring in Lincoln, Nebraska, a marketing and software company with more than 200 employees and thousands of clients all over the world, he’s done just that. Firespring differentiates itself through purpose by leveraging their profit, products, and people to do more good. They deliver on this promise through their Power of 3 Program where they donate 1% of their topline revenue, 2% of their products and services (in-kind) and 3% of their people (employees volunteer one day every month). In 2018, the value of their support to their local community totaled $2.83 million. And they’re more profitable than ever.
But Wilkinson and Firespring are not the only ones to discover that the secret to transformative business success is not what you do, but why you do it. In fact, there have been entire books written about doing business this way, the most popular of which could be considered Firms of Endearment. In the book, Rajendra Sisodia, leader of the Conscious Capitalism movement, reveals that these companies returned 1,026 percent for investors over a 10 years period, compared with 122 percent for the S&P 500 in that same time period. Over five years, the ratio is even higher, with FoEs returning 128 percent compared to a meager gained 13 percent with the S&P.
Although these statistics were not around when Wilkinson launched Firespring, there was something in the pit of his stomach that made him believe that purpose would be their differentiator. And because of it, Firesrping has realized an outstanding potential—one that he hopes to help others achieve as well. But Wilkinson and Firespring also know that in a traditional business setting doing what drives profit often takes priority and can make purpose hard to talk about.
What’s the ROI of purpose? What product does purpose sell? How are we going to direct a team towards this purpose? Too often businesses get caught up in achieving their mission and leave the purpose behind. But there’s a big difference between a mission and a purpose.
A mission is the what, and a purpose is the why. Toms mission is to sell shoes, but its purpose is to provide free footwear to people in need. Patagonia’s mission is to sell outdoor products, but its purpose is to save the environment—or at least improve the state of it. Unilever’s mission is to “add vitality to life,” but the company’s purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace. Understanding purpose allows leaders to create inspired business practices while avoiding the traditional mindset that business has to be a zero-sum game.
With a strong understanding of what their purpose is and just how powerful it can be, Wilkinson and Graham Pansing-Brooks (who met each other at the same leadership camp Wilkinson attended years ago, this time with Wilkinson as a counselor), launched a conference, called Do More Good, which had its first run from May 15 to 17, 2019. The mission of the conference was to teach attendees how putting purpose behind profit creates growth in the communities in which companies reside, helps to attract top talent, and leads to new revenue streams previously unavailable.
Attendees were assured that they would walk away with a roadmap featuring tangible next steps for their organization or business. In order to achieve this, the team at the Do More Good conference brought in some people who have been doing purpose-driven business for years, including:
- Jay Coen Gilbert: Co-Founder, B-Lab & the B-Corp Movement
- Jay Wilkinson: CEO, Firespring
- John Rood: Senior Vice President, Disney Channels Worldwide
- Preeta Bansal: Former General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor, The White House’s Office of Management and Budget
- Rand Stagen: Co-Founder, Conscious Capitalism & CEO, Stagen Leadership
Although unintended, the conference also just so happened to be the first time the major impact-focused organizations—B Labs, 1% for the Planet and Conscious Capitalism—were all at the same event at once. And it just so happened to take place in Nebraska, the place the United States happens to call the “Heartland.” From these people, the best in the world at leveraging purpose to drive better business, attendees could leave assured that they had learned how to leverage purpose to drive a more impactful and meaningful bottom line.
Purpose Defines Our Future
Purpose is a hot marketing word today, especially with all the nonsense happening in our world surrounding corrupt politicians, overzealous media organizations, and other trending issues on the internet. Unfortunately, because of this, declaring purpose become the new “Fat-Free”—a label that rests on everything just trying to grab consumers’ attention. But purpose is much more than that, and if we maintain shallow resolutions instead of acting on the words, we’re sure to dilute the label to the point of which it too cannot be trusted.
Luckily, there’s a large group from Nebraska hoping to stop that from happening. And they’re not the only ones who believe in this path. In early 2019 BlackRock CEO, Larry Fink wrote a letter to every CEO around the world. In it, he wrote:
As a fiduciary to these clients, who are the owners of your company, we advocate for practices that we believe will drive sustainable, long-term growth and profitability. As we enter 2019, commitment to a long-term approach is more important than ever—the global landscape is increasingly fragile and, as a result, susceptible to short-term behavior by corporations and governments alike.
What should be clear by this statement is that if the CEO of the largest private equity firm in the world has decided it’s time to make purpose-driven change, you might want to jump on the train. In fact, you might even be a bit late getting to the game, so maybe you want to speed up. If that’s the case, maybe you should consider signing Do More Good’s partner pact and start taking steps forward. Or b attend next year’s Do More Good conference in Nebraska to see what all the buzz is about. As stated in the title, the conference and movement have one purpose: Do More Good. What’s yours?
June 11, 2019 at 08:51AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs