Morality Doesn’t Pay the Bills – Confessions of a Social Entrepreneur
I just turned down an advertising deal worth well over $100,000. Did I do the right thing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The opportunity: A multi-billion dollar agro-biotech company – let’s call them Monstero – is looking to improve their image. Their advertising agency knows Care2 is the best place for advertisers to get in front of 14 million influential do-gooders - so they figured it’s a highly leveraged way to convince the public that GMO crops aren’t so bad after all.
No company is perfect, so when it comes to moving corporations to be more sustainable, I’m usually a big believer in the “carrot and stick” approach. We use collective action “sticks”, such as our petitions, to influence corporations to change… but we also want to help companies see there is profit in moving toward greener products/practices – and so advertising campaigns are an effective “carrot”….
But in this situation, I don’t believe the company is really moving in a positive direction, and I don’t think the carrot would help. So we turned them down.
Simple right? After all, I’m a social entrepreneur – I’m out to make the world a better place!
But it’s not simple. While my self-righteous moral side may be feeling pretty good, it doesn’t pay our bills… and $100,000+ goes a long way. It costs a lot to run a website the size of Care2. While things are going well for us, who knows what the economy will do? I know the pain of laying people off when the economy tanks, and I don’t ever want to have to do that again. “Save now for a rainy day” is smart practice.
And who knows – maybe this Monstero campaign isn’t so terrible. The messaging itself sounds pretty admirable – it wasn’t directly promoting Monstero, but instead focused on helping farmers to improve crop yields to reduce global warming and alleviate malnutrition. I don’t pretend to know all the answers as to how we build a more sustainable future – so if you put Monstero’s business practices to the side, maybe their campaign itself isn’t so bad.
And frankly, their campaign site is pretty boring - I suspect most people who’d click through wouldn’t bother reading their rhetoric, and probably wouldn’t notice the little Monstero logo at the bottom of the page. And even it they did, our members are smart and able to make up their own minds as to whether the campaign was a good idea. Maybe it wouldn’t really do any harm.
One thing I am quite confident of though is that we’ll soon see this Monstero promotion running on other big media sites in their “green” areas. I’m sure they’ll sleep well at night with an extra $100,000 or more in the bank.
I also can imagine doing a lot of good with that money – putting it to work improving the site, adding new features to take action on important causes, or even increasing our educational content about the problems with GMOs. Heck, we could even take the money, and donate 100% of it to a deserving nonprofit.
I know what a lot of folks will say: “You did the right thing. The high road wins in the long run”… or, “Get over it. How could you even consider working with them?! They’re evil – and promoting their campaign would have damaged Care2′s reputation”.. or even, “Didn’t you once say Rule #1 is to do no harm!” Yes, I did… And if we were talking about someone else’s company, I’m sure I’d find this an easier decision.
So why am I writing this post when we’ve turned down many campaigns in the past and I’ve never blogged about it before? I guess you can call this “confessions of a social entrepreneur.” I’ve been making these kind of decisions for 12 years now, and they still make me uncomfortable. Real money in the bank that we could do great things with, or (up till now) silently forgo the deal and hope it’s the Right Thing for the long run.
Thanks to Peter Blanchard