Creating a company with philanthropic goals

Guest post  By Will Adoasi, Vitae London

There’s no other way to say it: Consumers want businesses to have a positive social impact.

Over 75% say they buy more from companies that they feel share their personal values. Around two-thirds will avoid buying from brands they see as having a negative social or environmental impact. But building a business with philanthropic aims isn’t always easy.

Vitae London is a fashion brand that helps the most vulnerable children in South Africa into education. Here are my top tips from what I’ve learned so far about creating a company with philanthropic goals:

  1. Personal motivation

There are so many good causes in the world and so many people in need, but I feel it’s important to do something that really resonates with you, your business, and your personal story. This helps keep you motivated when times are tough.

For me, education is incredibly important. My dad was born in Africa and was the first in his family to read and write, and it’s only because of that opportunity for education that I am even here today. So, for me, it’s easy to stay passionate about helping African kids into education.

I also think customers can tell the difference between a business that is using a cause to promote their product and a true social business. They can spot genuine passion. Without that, it’s almost impossible to make your social business a success.

  1. Offer something tangible

If customers can’t understand what you’re actually doing to make an impact, how their money goes to help, they won’t feel motivated to support you. At Vitae, for example, we don’t speak about giving 10% of profits to House of Wells, because the customers may not know the charity and 10% is an abstract figure. Instead we talk about the school uniforms we provide and how that allows thousands of vulnerable children to access education, so our customers know exactly how their money is going to help.

  1. Balance your start-up costs and donations

Donating to a charity does eat into your bottom line which can limit your growth. In the early days, it was about trying to figure out the balance between giving to charity and having enough money for the business to survive.

Fortunately, there are some great funding streams out there at the moment. I was lucky enough to receive a startup loan from Richard Branson and became a Virgin Startup Ambassador. This gave us a great head-start as well as some invaluable practical support.

A new way of raising funds is through crowdfunding. This also has the benefit of connecting you with an engaged audience. Our current campaign on Indiegogo will not just provide us with the capital we need to put our new range into production, it will also connect us with hundreds, if not thousands, of passionate customers.

  1. Find people who share your vision

By aligning around a specific philanthropic aim, you’re more likely to find celebrities who are keen to get involved. The philanthropic aspect of the brand has helped us get free endorsements from the likes of Richard Branson, Paloma Faith and Philip Schofield – endorsements that might otherwise have cost us millions of pounds.

The geography of our charity work has also inspired celebrities with African connections in particular, such as Emeli Sandé, Tinchy Stryder and Amma Asante. What’s more, followers of a celebrity often share their passions for the same causes, forming the ideal audience for your social business.

Making a success of any new start-up business is tough, and perhaps even tougher if you’re donating a chunk of your profits. But the long-term benefits are great. Not only do you get to help a cause close to your heart, you also have a USP that’ll help cut through an oversaturated market. And since consumers are keen to buy from social businesses, you could well end up selling more.

The social aspect needs to be more than just a marketing ploy though – if you don’t really believe in the cause you’re supporting or you donate the bare minimum, customers will see through the marketing and they will punish you for it.


About Vitae London

Vitae London is an ethical watch brand that offers fashionable watches at affordable prices in order to advance social justice.

Vitae London works within several South African provinces where education is free, but much of the youth are unable to take advantage of such learning opportunities due to their lack of access to school equipment, such as uniforms and shoes, which are required to attend school.

Each watch purchased from Vitae London’s classic range of watches supplies a child with two sets of school uniform, a bag and footwear to see them through the year.


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