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Jon Carson

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Contributing Toward Social Good Is Big Business

Posted: 03/ 2/2012 8:07 am

I learned at a very early age the core values of giving back to those less fortunate and the importance of a good education. These values stem from my mother who worked tirelessly to ensure I had the best possible opportunities to learn. As the only child of a single mother, money was tight at first but we found ways to give back whenever possible and made sacrifices to invest in my education. I felt a responsibility to one day pay it forward.

I watched my mother's career in business flourish as she worked her way up from answering reader mail to becoming the editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine. She loved her career but always regretted that her professional endeavors weren't doing more to advance the social good. My mother's inspirational journey lit the entrepreneurial fire and forced me to look at the traditional business model differently. I made a commitment to weave my core values into the fabric of each company I built. Having started three socially-minded businesses and selling each one profitably, I firmly believe in the model of social enterprise and the concept of creating shared value.

When founding BiddingForGood, I envisioned a solution for fundraisers to tap household discretionary spending and the e-commerce economy via online auctions. We created a new shopping category called charitable commerce with more than 275,000 cause-minded shoppers in our bidder community. This is a movement, a virtuous circle whereby non-profits and schools can host an online auction and receive bids from socially-conscious shoppers all over the country.

Belmont Day School in Belmont, Mass., ran an online auction with BiddingForGood last April and sold 910 items. The online auction raised more than $30,000 for scholarships and supplemental funds. At a recent live event using BiddingForGood's in-room mobile bidding technology, the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults raised more than $18,000. The money raised will be used to fund programs and services addressing areas of cancer support, wellness and education specific to young adults dealing with cancer.

Harnessing technology, the Internet, and mobile for the betterment of non-profits and schools has no limits, yet the social rewards these organizations provide are limitless. Our world today has an increasing set of systemic, societal and economic problems that need help from the private sector. These problems are beginning to feed on themselves, creating a negative network effect. Government intervention alone is not enough to change the tide. As a society, we need the entrepreneurs of the future to take a leadership position and create businesses focused on improving our nation's education system, health, and infrastructure.

Indeed, the climate is ripe for social enterprises to be profitable while making great contributions toward social good. Why now? Because right now many institutions face deep, universal funding challenges due to stock market losses, reductions in charitable giving, and lost government resources. There is no choice for them but to be innovative, either on their own or with the help of an outside company that can create jobs and benefits for society in the process. Viable solutions will have to be easy to use, affordable, and provide plenty of hand holding for this constituency.

Making the world a better place should be a significant part of what businesses do. It's not a job for non-profits alone. Particularly in a post-recession economy, the successful businesses of the future will be those with a social mission built into their business model. We have a responsibility to do everything reasonable to be good stewards of the planet, our people, and our local community. Social enterprise has an innate advantage with its mission built into the company - as the business prospers, so do the social benefits. It's not tangential. The direct alignment of profitability and social rewards ensures the journey is the end reward.

Jon Carson is Chairman and CEO of BiddingForGood.com, a charitable e-commerce company connecting fundraisers, cause-conscious shoppers, and socially responsible businesses. Jon is a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years in building and scaling for-profit enterprises that serve a broader social purpose.