Think philanthropy doesn't make a difference to your bottom line? Think again. Today's consumers are more conscious than ever about social issues, and sometimes they're even willing to switch brands in favor of a company that gives back.
But it may not be enough to just make a one-time donation, or put in an hour of volunteer work every year. Companies that practice social responsibility as part of their everyday business model prove that a dedication to charitable initiatives goes a long way, both for the cause and their reputation. These 20 businesses are just a few of the countless examples of successful socially responsible companies.[What is Corporate Social Responsibility?]
Accessibility Partners – Many people take their computers, smartphones and tablets for granted, but for those with disabilities, using these technologies can present significant challenges. Accessibility Partners works with private and public IT manufacturing companies, federal agencies and other organizations to test and review products that make information technology accessible to individuals with a variety of disabilities. More than 70 percent of the company's employees have disabilities themselves, so the company promotes disability advocacy in all of its operations.
Altered Seasons – Kelly Reddington founded his eco-friendly candle company Altered Seasons in 2003 at age 14 with the help of his mother. When he assumed ownership of the company, he shifted it to a one-for-one model to do more for the community. For every candle sold, Altered Seasons provides a meal to an American in need through Feeding America.
Charitable Agents – Anyone who's sold or purchased a home knows how cutthroat real estate agencies can be about their commissions and fees. But what if you knew that part of that commission was going to support your favorite charity? With Charitable Agents, a network committed to helping homeowners and Realtors make a positive impact in their community, you can do just that. The company matches buyers and sellers with a top-performing local Realtor, and when the transaction closes, 10 percent of the agent's commission goes to charity.
Children Inspire Design – Artist and mother Rebecca Peragine began selling her whimsical wall art, cards and posters to promote environmental education for children. In addition to using recycled materials, eco-friendly inks and biodegradable packaging for Peragine's original designs, Children Inspire Design sells handcrafted paper ornaments made by a women's cooperative in Mexico, and a special poster whose full proceeds go to Future Fortified.
Cole and Parker – This Canada-based sock company does more than just sell colorful footwear. Through its partnership with microfinance organization Kiva, Cole and Parker donates proceeds from every sock sale to a fund that is used to provide small loans for entrepreneurs in developing countries.
Do Good Buy Us – The mission of Do Good Buy Us is to sell "goods that do good." This e-commerce website is dedicated to changing consumerism by selling products made by organizations that support social causes. Additionally, 50 percent of the company's proceeds go toward fighting poverty, hunger, disease and other global issues.
Gift of Happiness – Donating a portion of your sales to charity is a popular way for retailers to get involved in corporate social responsibility (CSR). Gift of Happiness has put its own spin on this approach, donating 5 percent of every purchase to the listed charity of the customer's choice. But what makes this cause-centric marketplace truly unique is its transparent follow-through: Every charity has a "progress bar," and customers can check back to see how much closer their favorite causes are to reaching their funding goals.
Headbands of Hope – After a life-changing internship at the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Jessica Ekstrom decided she wanted to continue helping children with life-threatening illnesses by starting her own business. Her company, Headbands of Hope, sells made-in-the-U.S. headbands and donates a dollar of each sale to childhood cancer research through the St. Baldrick's Foundation.
HERO|farm – Founded by two laid-off advertising executives, HERO|farm is a social mission-focused marketing and design agency whose philosophy is "Do great work for good people." The duo behind HERO|farm made the decision to work with socially responsible companies after realizing how beneficial and impactful advertising can be when a company has an admirable mission. HERO|farm also does at least one pro bono campaign per year for a nonprofit organization.
Image Outfitters – Since its launch in 1998, promotional products manufacturer Image Outfitters has made annual donations to local charities. Last year, the company changed its sales model after seeing how adversely the economic downturn affected these organizations. Through its proprietary platform, iShare, 10 percent of the total sale amount for new customer orders is donated to the charities of the customer's choice.
Juntos Shoes – This ethically conscious fashion startup designed a shoe inspired by traditional Ecuadorean canvas shoes. For each pair sold, Juntos Shoes donates a supply-filled backpack to an at-risk Ecuadorean child to help him or her participate more fully and effectively in school.
Krochet Kids – Years ago, three high school friends with a shared love of snow sports learned to crochet their own headwear. Though they sold custom creations to classmates, Krochet Kids fizzled out when the guys went to college — until they realized teaching their skill in developing countries could help break the cycle of poverty. The company earned its nonprofit status in 2008, and today, Krochet Kids is helping more than 150 Ugandans and Peruvians make a fair wage through the sale of crocheted goods.
Mirage Spa and Recreation – Hot tubs are a big-ticket item. That's why Mirage Spa and Recreation is able to encourage so many of its customers to take part in the company's philanthropic initiatives: Customers receive 15 percent off their purchase when they bring in food, pet supplies or personal care items for Mirage to donate to a local food pantry.
Nicklaus Companies – Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus founded Nicklaus Companies, a global business that focuses on marketing, licensing and the design of golf courses worldwide. Recently, Nicklaus and business partner Howard Milstein released a line of golf balls to be sold online and at Nicklaus Design courses, with a percentage of all proceeds going to benefit the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation. Customers receive a discount for purchasing online but have the option to make up the difference from the retail price by donating to the foundation.
Out of Africa – Customers of cosmetics company Out of Africa do more than just purchase high-quality shea-butter skin care products; they also help improve the quality of life for West African women and children. A portion of Out of Africa's proceeds is donated to organizations that provide education and medical care to children, and the company regularly donates to women's cooperatives that create jobs in West Africa.
People Water – You might be wondering how buying bottled water in the U.S. can provide clean water in impoverished nations around the world. Thanks to People Water's "Drop for Drop" initiative, every bottle the company sells helps to fund one of its global clean water projects, whether it's building a new well, repairing a broken one or establishing a water purification system in an area suffering from poor water quality. To date, People Water has helped bring more than 5.7 million gallons (21.6 million liters) of clean water to people in need.
PopNod – When people shop online at one of PopNod's partner stores, they earn cash back that can be donated in varying amounts to the cause of their choice. With nearly 100 causes to support and more than 250 major retailers in categories such as apparel, electronics, beauty and entertainment, there's a partner store and cause for every consumer. In Dec. 2014, the company launched a companion iOS app to take your charitable shopping on-the-go.
Prime Five Homes – Homes built by Prime Five Homes aren't your typical houses. Each of these modern, sustainable homes is equipped to use less energy, gas and water, so buyers know they're moving into a property that's better for the environment. A portion of all sales goes to the company's nonprofit arm, the Dream Builders Project, which provides services and monetary donations to select charities.
Rainbow Light – Founded in 1981, Rainbow Light started out selling spirulina nutritional supplements to health-conscious consumers. In addition to expanding its line of natural supplements, the company has been committed to improving the health of its customers, trade partners, global community and the planet. As part of its Circle of Care initiative, Rainbow Light helps fight global malnutrition with its supplements through Vitamin Angels, a nonprofit that delivers vitamins to at-risk mothers and babies, and uses 100 percent recycled and recyclable BPA-free packaging.
SurveyMonkey – SurveyMonkey is best known for its easy-to-use survey creation software, but the company's nationwide survey service, Audience, was created as a way to give back to deserving causes across the country. Instead of offering cash and prizes to survey takers, SurveyMonkey donates 50 cents per survey completion to the taker's charity of choice. In 2013, the company donated more than $1 million to organizations such as the Humane Society, Boys & Girls Club of America, and Teach for America.
BONUS: ON.com – New social networking app ON.com may have been founded on the principle of sharing geo-tagged photos to connect with people, but this startup lets you do good when you post a selfie. Throughout the year, ON.com hosts charitable campaigns in which they donate $1 per site member when someone posts a photo with their hashtag, #OnIsFun. For Thanksgiving, the company asked for photos of food and donated $522 to Feed My Starving Children. A similar campaign is planned for the holiday season.
Originally published on Nov. 21, 2013. Updated Dec. 9, 2014.