But sure enough, I still get interview requests about the concept. I still get email pitches and PR announcements asking me to write about the latest, greatest version of it. And there is still NO RELIABLE DATA on how much money is raised this way, what percentage goes to charity, or what it costs to move that money.
And then I realized how much I like BetterWorldBooks. On one hand, it is a really cool social enterprise. On the other, embedded giving is the sine qua non of this company. To remind you - BetterWorldBooks buys used books from libraries and others and resells them online with part of the proceeds going to literacy programs around the world.
So I started to wonder about myself as a donor and as a consumer. Just in time along comes a white paper, From Legacy to Leadership: Is Philanthropy Ready for the New Consumer? to tell me who I am, what I care about and how nonprofits should respond to me. Now, to be clear, the paper is written by BBMG, a marketing consultancy, so they have skin in the game on this. You can get a copy of the paper here, but you will have to fill out a form adding yourself to BBMG's mailing list.
Here, in brief, is what I took from the paper. Today's consumer (i.e., me) is looking for 3 types of value from the brands they choose - practical, social, and tribal (BBMG's lingo, not mine. They are the marketers, after all.
- Practical - does the item do what I need it to (BetterWorldBooks - sold me books I wanted at low cost).
- Social - does it make me feel good about myself (BWB - Hey, I'm keeping old books out of the landfill AND helping support literacy programs)
- Tribal - does the brand make me feel part of something cool that is bigger than myself (BWB is way hipper than Amazon - it lets me flaunt my "independent, do-gooder, 3BL" self, even as I surreptitiously read other stuff on my Kindle)
Which, me being me, made me think of something else. For the last several months ago I've been thinking about business models for media companies - largely because I think much of what is happening in the news industry is destiny for many other industries. One of the trends I've noticed is that media companies, especially newspapers, are going into other lines of business - like wine club hosting, cruise organizing or reward points.
Now if these were 501 c 3 organizations, the IRS would no doubt call all this "Unrelated Business Income." But since they are, nominally, commercial enterprises, the question arises, what is going on, when The New York Times is offering me membership opportunities, not just a chance to buy some news and read some advertising? I think the answer is the Times is trying to embed itself into my life even more than it already is, by becoming my trusted source of wine advice and a way to meet new friends (other wine club members), in addition to providing me news and Paul Krugman columns.
Maybe BBMG is right about what is going on - that our values and social goals are becoming as important in our consuming, donating choices as our practical needs. If so, then just as the public, commercial and philanthropic sectors are blending - see social enterprise, impact investing and the Office of Social Innovation for examples, - so are our individual behaviors.
If this is the case, and we are making consumer purchases on a mass scale that reflect our values and social goals, then embedded giving will truly be here to stay. It will become an integral part of new enterprises, B Corporations, L3Cs, and social enterprises. In essence, it will get ever more embedded - both through technology and through the kind of organizational hybridization represented by BWB. If this happens, there may be a bright side. With all the focus on measurement of social return in the Social Capital Markets, we may finally get some reasonable data.