Socialvest CEO Adam Ross has taken an unconventional route in becoming a social entrepreneur. Growing up in North Carolina, he dreamt of working in the film industry. After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill, he jumped headfirst into the business when he accepted a job at Miramax in New York. Although he was pursuing his childhood aspiration, he wasn't finding the personal fulfillment that he anticipated.
He decided to move to Atlanta and pursue real estate, where he found success buying and selling commercial properties. He had the foresight to cash out before the real estate bubble burst. Now having the financial flexibility, he was thoughtful on what should be the next phase of his career.
With a friend, he purchased an apartment complex to serve as housing for Atlanta's homeless. It was a for-profit entity that received city and federal funding to help displaced men and women off the streets and in a suitable home environment.
"We created a sustainable business that served homeless men and women, helped the city and had so many positive outcomes that it became interesting to me to see if you could create similar businesses," recalls Ross.
He started consulting for some local non-profits and attended a retreat for the Hands On Network, a leadership group that help people and businesses find engaging volunteer opportunities in their community. Attending the conference with representatives from major corporations, Adam noticed the disparity of perceptions between corporations and non-profits.
"Take a look at Target; they give a lot of money to education, but no one really knows that," says Ross. "The same for Dillards: they have done so much for Ronald McDonald House and no one knows that either because it doesn't have meaning to them."
He developed Socialvest, an online social enterprise that allows customers to give back with ease. Shoppers can use Socialvest's various e-shopping platforms to make everyday purchases from electronics to clothes and give back to causes of their choice every time they buy at no additional cost.
"The days of the man in the suit giving a check to Habitat for Humanity are over," explains Ross. "In these times of social networking, it is more meaningful for a corporations like Target to give money back to me as a consumer and empower me to give back to the causes that are important to me."
Socialvest's unique process invites guests to login using the Socialvest browser app, mobile optimized site and now iPhone app, and shop at some of their favorite online retailers. After the consumer purchases their items online, a portion of the total cost is placed into the consumer's Socialvest Giving Account aka "savings account," ready to be distributed and donated to the consumers' causes of choice. Socialvest retailers give back anywhere from one to 35 percent of the total purchase at no additional cost to the consumer.
Ross says that Socialvest's accruing account model allows consumers to build a reserve of donation money and empower them to give back however they want, whenever they want and to whomever they want. With an online database of 1.5 million nonprofits, customers can give money to a nationally recognized charity like the Red Cross or to more community oriented organizations.
"In a lot of our research, we find people care more about giving to the Los Angeles Ballet Company rather than the Red Cross; they connect with them on a different level," says Ross. "The ability to give to these smaller community organizations creates a deeper and richer tie."
With over 500 merchant partners, Ross says that some companies are more enthusiastic to join than others. He has found the most success with online companies who will easily forgo their marketing expenses for a charitable donation to drive users to their website.
Ross argues that companies must explore these social entrepreneurial strategies because their customers will eventually demand it. Consumers today understand their purchasing power and many will shift behavior based on a corporation's philanthropic measures.
"There is a ROI for these [corporations] and it is not 'let's spend this money to make us feel good,'" says Ross. "They understand that consumers will shop more frequently, increase their basket size, choose your brand over your competitor's brand and use their social network to tell their friends about."
While Socialvest is a for-profit venture, they give three to four dollars to charity for every dollar it makes. Ross understands many young people today aspire to become social entrepreneurs and is quick to advise them to make sure they are working through a business prism.
"The most important thing is that you create something that actually has a business model behind it," Ross says. "There may be a lot of cool things that you may want to do, but if you can't monetize it then it will be hard to get it done."
Ross dreams that eventually a Socialvest account will become as common as a Facebook profile. While it all hasn't been easy, Ross wakes up every morning excited to grow Socialvest and empower users to make an impact every time they buy.
"Anything worth doing is a long road and you are inevitably going to get knocked down," he reflects. "It takes a lot of determination to get where you are going. It's important to stay focused and surround yourself with a team committed to the same goal."
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