My story is exactly like Bono's.
Well, not exactly, but I think you'll see my point. The ten years I spent at a traditional ad agency were ten years of frustration when it came time to helping people. You'd see all of these great groups who needed advertising and marketing help and then you had all of these great advertising and marketing people who wanted to help, but money got in the way ultimately.
The non-profits didn't have it and, tragically, the writers, directors and producers really kind of needed it to live. It was a Catch 22 that wore me down. I solved it by, after my stint on the Kerry Campaign and after I started writing here the day the Huffington Post opened its doors, by focusing my new agency on new media.
Through new media, with its lower or non-existent production costs, free media outlets and power of the masses, I can do something for a non-profit or cause group at a price they can afford and hire people who can actually earn a living salary to help me do it.
Bono, I have heard, had a moment after LIVE AID a few decades ago when he discovered that all the money raised that day was the equivalent to one day's interest on the loans of the Western World to Africa.
What we shared was the realization that in a capitalistic society, it is very difficult to fight capitalism. Capitalism is not really just the economic system we work under, it is at its core human nature -- another quite difficult thing to fight.
How often has an open piece of land near you gone up for sale and you hear the neighbors say, 'oh they should just give it to the local conservation group.' Really? Why don't you just give all your savings? Or the money you saved for your children's college?
The only practical way to save land is to buy it and be thankful that, sometimes, people will give you some more.
In this week's TIME magazine, Bill Gates chimes in on what he calls Creative Capitalism and while I can't do the entire article justice, read it here, there are a few important things he mentions.
The first is the founding of (RED) which he attributes to a night in a bar with Bono -- I have no proof of the contrary so this is the story of the start of (RED)'s creation.
To take a real-world example, a few years ago I was sitting in a bar with Bono, and frankly, I thought he was a little nuts. It was late, we'd had a few drinks, and Bono was all fired up over a scheme to get companies to help tackle global poverty and disease. He kept dialing the private numbers of top executives and thrusting his cell phone at me to hear their sleepy yet enthusiastic replies. As crazy as it seemed that night, Bono's persistence soon gave birth to the (RED) campaign. Today companies like Gap, Hallmark and Dell sell (RED)-branded products and donate a portion of their profits to fight AIDS. (Microsoft recently signed up too.) It's a great thing: the companies make a difference while adding to their bottom line, consumers get to show their support for a good cause, and -- most important -- lives are saved. In the past year and a half, (RED) has generated $100 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, helping put nearly 80,000 people in poor countries on lifesaving drugs and helping more than 1.6 million get tested for HIV. That's creative capitalism at work.
In the interest of full disclosure, my company, Common Sense NMS, works with (RED) and we are quite proud to. I also work with the Purple Dog Tag -- created by Ron Lawner and Suzy Marden from Boston. I have met with Diamond Empowerment Fund and hope to help them as well.
All three groups are driven by a greater desire to help, (RED) to AIDS in Africa, Purple Dog Tag to returning wounded soldiers and Diamond Empowerment Fund to helping children in diamond-producing countries.
All three have a commercial angle to them, (RED) has partners who sell (RED) products, Purple Dog Tag sells Purple Dog Tags and net proceeds go to groups like Veterans For America. And Diamond Empowerment Fund receives money from the sales of a beautiful bracelet that Simmons Jewelry makes (Russell Simmons is the creator of DEF)
But two of the three groups, (RED) and Purple Dog Tag have struggled from a perception issue, they are not charities like DEF is and there is this underlying uncertainty about their methods. This uncertainiy is borne I believe of a one part pettiness, one part envy and two parts ignorance.
In the end, it is one hundred percent tragic and comic.
In the two years of its existence, Bono and (RED) co-founder Bobby Shriver have raised over $110,000,000 for The Global Fund, 100% of which has gone to Africa. 100%.
Over $100,000,000 donated because I bought a (RED) ipod for the same price as a blue ipod but because I bought a (RED) ipod, Apple gave money to The Global Fund.
This is a success but because it's a new model, there has been chatter and negativity surrounding the brand that is unwarranted and wrong.
Let me tell you three things.
One, the amount of money that some of the 'charities' you might hold up as examples pay their consultants and ceo's and direct mail houses money that is absolutely outrageous. And many of those charities fail to help those that they say they are helping in any way shape or form.
Wouldn't you rather support an organization that is successful rather than a "charity" that doesn't come close to delivering for the people it's supposed to help?
Second, why wouldn't you applaud someone like Ron Lawner, who after an incredibly successful business career, looked at the lack of care our returning wounded were receiving and said, "I have to do something." Ron's not making money from Purple Dog Tag, he's paying real people real money to make it a real success, it's as simple as that.
Finally, let's say you had a great idea. You were going to raise money by getting companies to pay you a fee to sell products with your name on it. On the basis of those fees, you would build a company. And every product that was sold with your name on it, a percentage went to your favorite charity. I could have James Boyce golf balls from Titleist where they pay me a fee to help make people aware of them but $1 every sleeve goes to help The Open Door, the food pantry in Gloucester, Mass I support.
And here's the best part. The sleeve of Titleists costs the same as every other sleeve so for the golfer, who cares? The regular golf balls and the James Boyce golf balls, same price.
That, essentially, is the idea Bono had in that bar that night. That's the idea behind (RED) that Bobby Shriver helped bring to life.
That's what Bill Gates calls Creative Capitalism. He sees the Capitalism part to be as important as a the Creative Part.
Naturally, if companies are going to get more involved, they need to earn some kind of return. This is the heart of creative capitalism. It's not just about doing more corporate philanthropy or asking companies to be more virtuous. It's about giving them a real incentive to apply their expertise in new ways, making it possible to earn a return while serving the people who have been left out.
The next time you hear someone talk about an idea like (RED) or Purple Dog Tag remember:
We live in a capitalistic society and the bottom line matters.
How much have they given?
If you have an idea that gives away $100,000,000 in 24 months, I don't care if you're a charity, a non-profit, an NGO or a damm limited liability dual action reverse partnership.
I'm going to say two things:
And thank you.
Follow James Boyce on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jamesboyce