Forget the Growth Hacks: 3 Tips for Startups to Get ROI from their CSR

Team Brainstorming at a Breather Space

Do you think your company is too young, scrappy, and hungry to allow for the luxury of “do gooder” programs? It is an unfortunately common misconception that social responsibility activities should wait until your company or product is at least generating sustainable revenue. After all, that early capital is for plain old growth, right?

Maybe not. In fact, the case is quite the opposite.

Though effective methods of measurement are still debated, there is some solid evidence emerging (for example, from researchers at Kellogg) that suggests companies that invest in social responsibility tend to perform better financially.

This starts with your employees—especially your millennial employees. A recent study by Cone Communication found that 62% are willing to take a pay cut to work for a responsible company. Plus, positively engaged employees tend to stay longer and are more productive, leading to additional cost-savings.

A similar story is true for your customers—especially your Millennial customers. This consumer generation is expected to spend $200 billion a year by 2017. Where will that spending power go? Brands and companies that take social responsibility seriously, we hope. More than 9 in 10 Millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause.

Sustainability isn’t just how you package things; it is about more effective and efficient employees, more loyal and engaged customers, and better financial performance overall.

You don’t need a corporate foundation—or even dedicated resources to do this well. Cause marketing can be an effective, low-cost activity for early-stage companies, or as part of new product launches, to propel a social responsibility strategy.

Here are 3 things all startups should consider in their approach to corporate social responsibility.

1. Seek strategic partners, not vendors
Breather is a great example of a hot startup taking this to heart.

Called the “Uber for private workspaces,” Breather lets you unlock private spaces on-the-go and on-demand where you can work, meet, and relax. The company recently closed another round of funding, and rather than employing some growth hack like discounted prices this holiday season, Breather is donating $50 through GlobalGiving for every full-day reservation through January 15th.

For their cause marketing, Breather sought a partner like GlobalGiving as opposed to just a vendor. We collaborated to develop a co-branded landing page and a larger promotional strategy for social media.

The end result of a partnership tends to be more impactful and effective because both parties have an opportunity to add value; in this case, the campaign benefits from promotion through both GlobalGiving’s and Breather’s networks.

2. Match brand with cause
One of Breather’s primary causes for this campaign is homelessness. They are directing donations through GlobalGiving to a project of United Planning Organization called “Help UPO Help the DC Homeless” and a project of Latin American Youth Center called “Help 100 Youth Exit Homelessness in Washington, DC”. It makes sense given Breather is a company that provides access to safe and secure physical spaces. A strong parallel between your brand and your chosen cause is vital for the success of the campaign. In a study by BrandStar, 65% of consumers are unable to make sense of a business’s or brand’s social responsibility programs. A close coupling of brand and cause will make it easier for your audience to understand your values and therefore more willing to engage.

3. Measure to learn
Made possible by the co-branded landing page, Breather is using tracking links to monitor where users come from and where they go. This provides an opportunity to establish evidence that the campaign was effective—that it inspired people to use Breather for a meeting space because it would also help at-risk populations. But the important thing here is not to measure just to publish the results; instead, measure for the sake of feedback so your next cause marketing campaign will be data-driven and more effective. (We call this, “Listen, act, learn. Repeat.”)

Breather is just one example of great, early-stage companies or new product launches GlobalGiving has worked with to power low-overhead, meaningful customer engagement.

For more information on Breather, email

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