How to align your brand with a charity

No matter the size of your startup, there's always an opportunity to make the world a better place. Just ask Wapikka, a purpose-driven teddy bear business. With every teddy bear they sell they feed a child for a full school year in Malawi. Wapikka’s founder and Chief Teddy Officer, Ian Carpenter, talks about how to approach a charity.

Did you know you wanted there to be a social enterprise element in your business from the beginning?

Yes - 100%! About a year ago I sat down with my notebook and filled a page of all the things I wanted to do over the next 10 years. It was a pretty fun experience - I’d recommend you giving it a go if you never have.

The top 3 things on that list were:

  • Start a business
  • Contribute to a cause in a big meaningful way
  • Travel

I made a conscious decision to start an enterprise that would allow me to do all three at the same time.

Why did you choose to partner with Mary’s Meals? Did you have other charities in mind?

I first heard about Mary’s Meals and their mission when I read Duncan Bannantyne’s autobiography. He was a big supporter of them. They run school feeding programmes in some of the world's most deprived communities. They provide a daily meal in school that meets the immediate needs of hungry children, and which also encourages them to attend school to gain an education. I just love the simplicity of their concept and have been donating to them over the years. I knew right away I wanted to partner with Mary’s Meals and support their mission.

How did you approach them?

I just picked up the phone and called their head office. I asked to speak with their corporate fundraising team and got put through to their UK’s managing director. I shared my idea for a purpose-driven teddy bear business, and he loved the idea.

How does the partnership work?

Its pretty simple really. Each time we sell a teddy bear we donate the specific amount it costs to feed a child for a full school year. I do this at the end of each month. Adding up all the orders and actually transferring the money is my favourite part of the month by far.

What has been the impact so far?

We’ve only been in business a few months and have so far been able to feed 23 children for a full school year. We’re only just getting started and I’ve got big plans for the business in 2016.

What are the benefits of partnering with a charity or social cause?

Running a business with a powerful mission makes you stand out from the crowd. Being different is super important and will help your business stay in peoples minds. You can use your mission as a competitive advantage and use it to win over new customers. If you were looking at two different products before deciding to buy, and both products were similar in quality and price - however, one of them had a powerful cause attached - which one would you choose? I think most people would choose the product that makes a difference. I sure would.

Customers are also way more likely to promote and support your business. I recently had a customer who bought one of our teddy bears at a Christmas gift fair and then heard her convince her friend to buy one too. She literally made a sale for me. It was awesome.

I entered into this years Pitch to Rich contest and was shortlisted as one of the top 20 startups after the public vote. Mary’s meals were able to send out my campaign to all of their supporters, which got me a ton of votes.

Above everything else, running a business with a social cause motivates me to do big things! It helps me get out of bed in the morning, work late nights and every weekend. At the end of the day, I know I’m making a difference - even if it’s just a small difference right now.

What top tips would you give to a start-up hoping to partner with a charity?

1. Find a cause and charity that you really believe in. Does that cause motivate you enough?

2. Do your research, and find out as much as you can about the charities that are operating in that field. Do most of their funds actually go to the charitable activities?

3. Decide on the impact that your product or business will have. It has to be something that really resonates with people. Donating a percentage of your profits is great; however it doesn’t sound as powerful as feeding a child for a full school year, or providing a year' worth of clean drinking water, for example.

4. Share your story and mission everywhere you go.

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