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Morality Doesn’t Pay the Bills – Confessions of a Social Entrepreneur

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.

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Thanks to Peter Blanchard

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1:30AM PDT on Aug 31, 2013

If you had run the campaing it would have been like trying to put out a fire ..while adding more wood in it ! Definitely you did the right thing IMO!

8:17AM PST on Jan 2, 2012

You ABSOLUTELY did the right thing. Remember that money is the root of all evil and working with the Monsteros of the world is a mighty slippery slope.

8:08AM PST on Jan 2, 2012

Thank you, Randy!

8:03AM PST on Jan 2, 2012

Monsanto is not in business to feed the starving planet--it's in business to put small farmers, "organic" farmers and heirloom crop farmers OUT of business. They want all seeds to be their seeds, all seeds to be the same, all other crops to become contaminated with their pollen so that everybody has to pay for their patented, genetically modified, untested-in-animals crop seeds. We will all have the chemicals allowing GE/GMO plants to tolerate deadly herbicides, inside us, with who-knows-what effects.

And then when some strange newly evolved organism does kill these plants, guess what? No more food, because a normally preserved or hybridized wide variety of crop seeds has not been preserved. Remember the Irish potato famine? Dutch elm disease? Widespread, intensive monoculture, growth of a single seed stock, with large areas of the same plant grown, eventually results in widespread plant death. Let's not make the planet depend on a single corn strain, or wheat strain, or rice strain, or potato strain, and end up starving a large sector of the population with no access to non-GMO crop seeds. Heirloom and natural hybrid seed banks are a life-and-death matter, and we know very little about the immediate or long-term results of eating Monsanto's and other companies' unlabeled GMO foods. Starving Haiti rejected donations of Monsanto GMO seed that would have contaminated and squeezed out the variety of all their other crops. Label, don't promote GE/GMO foods. Thank y

8:02AM PST on Dec 13, 2011

Money, money, money...

12:00AM PDT on Aug 4, 2011

Well done Randy. It's always important to base business deals off of integrity
not the dollar sign, I'm proud to call Care2my new activism website. I agree with Donna. A Care2 Auction would be a great idea. With items donated from people like green day , U2, PETA, Whole Foods, Sierra Club you could have a great auction. The list is endless. I bet plenty of people and organizations would be willing to help when you explain about the petitions, the daily clicks, butterfly points, I believe it will catch on.

Best of Blessings,

3:52AM PDT on Jul 14, 2011

Interesting article. Thanks

11:58AM PDT on Mar 22, 2011

It would have been great for you to take the money, donate it, and refuse to run the ads. But of course that would put you in a sticky situation with this great site. Thanks for this wonderful site.

4:40PM PDT on Mar 15, 2011

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!

7:48AM PDT on Mar 13, 2011

You Surely Did The Right Thing........

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