Photo: Trickle Up

Best Practices from a Small Nonprofit on the Big CSR Trend

By Arya Iranpour, Communications Officer, Trickle Up

Best Practices from a Small Nonprofit on the Big CSR Trend

Can tea and running shoes help the poorest of the poor? Well, no. Not exactly. But if you put corporate social responsibility (CSR) into the mix, you have a recipe for a unique business strategy that supports sustainable development. Trickle Up, a U.S.-based, nonprofit, global poverty alleviation organization focused on helping the poorest of the world’s poor, is fortunate enough to have such long-standing relationships with Newton Running and Plan Tea.

Trickle Up is dedicated to helping women take their first steps out of poverty by providing them with resources to build livelihoods for a better quality of life. The organization fundraises with one principle in mind: respect the dignity of its participants. Finding partners in the business community who can stay true to this principle can be a challenge. It was pleasantly surprising that two organizations called us with two different—but nonetheless ‘good fit’—proposals based on socially-conscious business strategies.

In 2008, Boulder, Colorado-based running shoe brand, Newton Running, approached us with an idea to incorporate CSR as a core part of its philosophy. This young, family-run business designs running shoes to support and strengthen
natural running motions. Newton Running wanted to employ CSR by donating revenue from each pair of shoes they sold to Trickle Up.

In 2010, Plan Tea, a New York City-based company with recipes for organic, freshly brewed iced teas got in touch with Trickle Up to ingrain commitments right from the start of their business. They created a “5% Plan” — 5% of net sales on a selection of its teas are donated to Trickle Up.

Over these past five years, our relationships with Newtown Running and Plan Tea have matured and guided us. Trickle Up now has guidelines for good CSR that every business should employ:

1. Build motivation with CSR from the start. It’s the sustainable solution.

Newton Running and Plan Tea both had CSR in mind when they started their businesses. Communicating early on that your company has strong, positive corporate values that extend beyond profits sends a great message to customers and employees. Starting a business can be exhilarating, so can knowing that what you are doing is making a difference.

For Plan Tea’s co-founder Alex Ridings, this motivation was felt from the beginning, “The staff at Trickle Up was very engaged with us and their support gave us confidence to structure our business plan the way we did. Now, we have a product line that speaks directly to the Trickle Up mission and our support of their cause. We let customers make this connection on their own through the products themselves, and when they do, it makes drinking Plan Tea an even more powerful experience.

2. Think long-term.

Your customers, employees and investors will all know about your mission for CSR and will want to be part of your movement. A year after coming on board with Trickle Up, Newton Running’s Donna and Wendy Lee traveled with our team to remote villages in Guatemala to witness Trickle Up’s poverty alleviation programs first-hand. This engagement helped them better understand what we do, and helped us realize how committed Newton Running is to our mission. Our relationship has evolved, and we are now working on new strategies that help us spread the word about Trickle Up’s work, such as through Newton Running events like the IRONMAN and marathon communities, Newton’s company blog and website and through direct outreach to their sponsored athletes.

3. Support the small nonprofits.

Small nonprofits, while lacking some brand awareness, are doing meaningful important work. This type of partnership can be deeply satisfying as corporate sponsors realize that their contributions to a smaller nonprofit or NGO make a big impact on an organization’s ability to build programs.

4. Nonprofits: stay true to your mission.

“Corporate sponsorships can be tricky to navigate, depending on the type of requests you may or may not be getting from the sponsor. My advice is to take things slow in the beginning and get to really know one another before signing any contracts. Don’t be afraid to ask too many questions. Now is the time to do it,” advises Caroline Avakian, former Trickle Up Communications Director and Founder of CauseSMART.

For Trickle Up, such due diligence has enabled us to ensure that relationships are formed with all the information on the table. We’re not afraid to admit that we’ve had to turn companies away because they weren’t a good fit to our values.

In many ways, Newton Running and Plan Tea have been ideal corporate sponsors in that their main goal was to learn and grow with us. They traveled with us to places we work and attended our informational events to better understand our mission. This has enabled us to build strong and lasting relationships with both organizations and develop a model that is working well with Trickle Up and other corporate sponsors.

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