Why Nonprofits Should Pay Attention To For-Profits
Can for-profit businesses make charity a part of their main business model and still make stakeholders happy? Two DC-based companies are proving they can.
Waveborn has been selling high-end sunglasses since 2011 and funding cataract surgeries around the world through SEE International. The nonprofit was launched in 1974 by an ophthalmologist to restore sight for people suffering from cataracts or other treatable conditions in areas of the world where medical care is lacking. In the past three years, the partnership has funded over 1,000 surgeries by providing 10% of Waveborn's profits (not revenue) to SEE International. The sunglasses are handcrafted by artisans in Milan, Italy, and sell for $99 to $179.
Waveborn CEO Mike Malloy, left, with Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, says the original idea for the company, launched in 2011, was to replicate TOMS Shoes’ one for one model where a sunglasses purchase would provide a pair of reading glasses. The company soon realized that funding expensive cataract surgeries would have a bigger impact on patients, consumers and the global eye care community.
Mike says for-purpose companies like Waveborn are growing because Millennials have been increasingly interested in solving social problems. As a for-profit, the company is always looking for ways to sell more sunglasses so that it can fund more surgeries. The goal is to fund another 1,000 surgeries this year. Mike is working with supply chain partners to develop a new product line of reading glasses and digital eye wear. The glasses will block blue light for someone staring at a computer screen all day, reduce eye strain and decrease the risk of macular degeneration.
Another do-good for-profit is SoapBox, which sells all natural products and provides soap bars to homeless shelters and food pantries in the US and a month of clean drinking water to individuals around the world. The company was launched by David Simnick (above), who wanted an impactful job after graduating from American University in 2009, and co-founder Daniel Doll. He started by learning how to make soap in his apartment by watching YouTube videos. Once he got the formula down, he pestered Whole Foods to let him sell the soaps in a handful of stores.
The company's all natural products have expanded to hand and body soaps, shampoos, conditioners and lotions and are sold in major retailers like Target, Whole Foods, CVS/Pharmacy, Giant Food and Sam's Club. The company originally started with an international focus, but David was being contacted by shelters and food pantries saying that soap bars were one of the most requested items. They’re not covered by food stamps and soap donations are low. Since its launch, the company has provided over 200,000 soap bars and 100,000 months of clean drinking water. The company recently provided soap and water to emergency relief efforts in Nepal after the devastating earthquake.
David says he’s learned several lessons. One is that when too much charity is mixed with a product, consumers can become confused and turned off. And only certain types of products can be tied to a charity. Soap works well because it’s such a needed product for both the privileged and underprivileged. Ultimately consumers are looking for great products at affordable prices, and then the charity is the cherry on top.