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July 28, 2016

Why Mission Matters

Mission-driven companies can increase organizational performance and drive customer and employee loyalty

At a recent family gathering in Michigan my extended family discussed the many economic, social and political changes that are roiling our landscape. Like many families, ours feels buffeted by events that can seem beyond our control, and many are struggling to navigate these choppy waters. One family member summed it up nicely, when she said, “I don’t mind change – just not so much, so fast.”

Our family is full of people with differing political ideologies, conflicting views on the role of government as a change agent, and diverse opinions about how we should approach immigration, guns and many other major issues. But there was strong agreement that our employers can – and should – play an essential role in knitting society together and providing community leadership.

This is not so surprising. The average American spends more time working (34.4 hours per week) than citizens of any other country – with some estimating that full-time workers in the U.S. put in about 47 hours per week. And for decades, people felt long-term attachment to their employers – whether they were teachers, autoworkers, reporters or executives. While not always perfect, the workplace could be counted on for stability, and companies could be counted on to look out for workers and the broader community.

Many of the issues we face are too big, complex and global in nature to be solved by any one sector working alone. We need to marshal and align the skills, expertise and financial resources of non-profits, government and commercial enterprises if we are expected to make progress.

Much has changed, but we have a certain set of expectations from companies and corporations. We expect them to be ethical, operate in a safe manner and adhere to existing laws and regulations. But are there responsibilities that extend beyond those expectations? And are there benefits for companies that do involve themselves in broader societal issues?

There is strong evidence that mission matters, and that mission-driven companies can increase organizational performance and drive customer and employee loyalty. While most often associated with non-profits, mission-driven organizations are broadly defined as having goals that extend beyond stakeholders or shareholders to include broader benefits to society.

Two examples – Kaiser Permanente, recognizing the dramatic health impacts of climate change, recently made the bold decision to become a “carbon positive” company by 2025; and Salesforce has its unique “1-1-1” program, dedicating one percent of product, one percent of profits and one percent of employee time to accelerate social change.

And with Millenials now passing baby Boomers as the largest generation in the U.S., companies would do well to take note of this – research shows that mission-driven companies are especially important to them.
There are now new opportunities for the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds to work together on broader social issues to benefit both companies and foundations and non-profits looking to make change.

Many of the issues we face are too big, complex and global in nature to be solved by any one sector working alone. We need to marshal and align the skills, expertise and financial resources of non-profits, government and commercial enterprises if we are expected to make progress.

That is why we are starting a strategic philanthropy practice at Vrge; to do just that.

We believe that government, non-profits and companies need to work together for the betterment of society – and that there are great models of how to do so, and opportunities that are mutually beneficial. Over the next few months we will be writing about some of these opportunities and citing case studies of good work that are helping the bottom line and the community at large.

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