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Sep 24, 2023 | Blog

Social Purpose in Business – So Much More than Just Better Philanthropy

By Mary Ellen Schaafsma, Purpose Advisor and Coach at Purpose Pathways Consulting

When businesses adopt a social purpose as the primary reason for their existence, it holds great positive potential to transform the world, and along with it – the relationship between business and charities. If businesses started to bring more than their philanthropy and volunteering to help solve the world’s issues – and they bring all the business has to bear (resources, ingenuity, and risk-taking acumen, investments), we may at last get at the root causes of societal issues (social or environmental). More and more, people are demanding this of businesses – to take on a new role in society.

What does it mean to be a Social Purpose Business? A Social Purpose is a company’s reason to exist that is an optimal contribution to the long-term well-being of all people and planet.

There are a few powerful implications in this statement.

First, the company now has a reason to exist that goes beyond profits and creates a new sense of responsibility, urgency, and opportunity to innovate around the issue they can impact upon.

Second, because it is about the company’s optimal contribution, it elevates what they must do beyond ‘random’ charitable acts to focused business activities on the issue that they can have the most impact on, because of who they are as a business.

Lastly, it is a mindset change that now a company must consider how they impact all people and planet. This expands their thinking beyond the usual suspects and helps them see how they can grow into a new role within society and maximize their impact.

Powerful stuff.

Let’s assume social purpose becomes the new normal in business. Here are three of the changes you can expect will begin to happen:

Collaboration and Partnerships: Businesses with a social purpose are more likely to seek out partnerships with charities and non-profits that align with their Purpose. This can lead to more collaborative efforts to address social and/or environmental issues. Charities may find it easier to access funding, resources, and expertise through these partnerships.

Shared Values and Objectives: Social Purpose Businesses and charities will come to share common goals, making it easier to work together on solutions. They may even go so far as to co-locate and/or share employees with a charity that helps them work towards their Social Purpose in a symbiotic way, supporting and strengthening each other’s organizations as they work together.

Innovation and Problem-Solving: Social Purpose businesses bring innovative approaches to address social and environmental challenges. They may work with charities to develop new solutions and technologies, bringing more of the company’s resources to the table on shared initiatives, products, or services. It could even become a revenue-generating, social enterprise opportunity for the charity.

Overall, the shift towards businesses adopting a social purpose can lead to more symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationships between businesses and charities. However, the success of these partnerships will depend on effective collaboration, transparency, and a genuine commitment to shared social and environmental goals and a willingness to capitalize on what each brings.

Charities know the issues and communities they work with. They have identified the root causes of issues and have ideas of how to tackle them – but there are not enough resources, and they are less able to take risks on new things.

Social Purpose Businesses have a heart and mandate to bring their business to the table to make a greater impact on the world. They have the resources and the ability to take on risk – to innovate new things that will be good for their business and good for society.

Charities that create new relationships with aligned Social Purpose Businesses could be starting a match made in heaven and be just what the world needs!

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