THE BLOG
01/31/2014 06:22 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2014

Lessons on Building a Social Enterprise From the First Buy-One-Give-One Food Company

It pays to give. TOMs has given over 10 million pairs of shoes; SoapBox Soaps has provided over 20,000 children with vitamin supplements for a year; Warby Parker has given 500,000 pairs of glasses to people in need. And they've all done it while being commercially successful. What's going on? As Simon Sinek says, consumers are buying into the "WHY" in a new and powerful way.

Our company, 2 Degrees Food, was formed around this concept. Here are some lessons we've learned over the years:

1. Determine what cause matters most to you, and connect it in a tangible way to a market of consumers
For 2 Degrees, solving childhood hunger matters most. Prior to founding the company our CEO visited a number of countries in Africa, and particularly in Rwanda saw the crippling effects of malnutrition on children. With the abundance of food in the U.S., he thought that he could do something innovative to leverage western country consumer demand with the needs in less developed markets. It was a supply problem that American consumerism, with the right incentives, could address in a significant way.

Maybe you have personal experience with cancer, or homelessness, or HIV/AIDS or environmental issues. Start there, and then begin searching for connecting dots.

2. Partner with the most effective, trusted and well-respected organizations
Many of the 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. are inefficient -- or worse, totally ineffective. Many others are enormously effective. It is vital that you do due diligence and find the organizations that have a long history and are well respected in the industry. Charity Navigator is a good place to start. Once you identify and partner with great organizations, when you make donations to their mission, often these organizations will thank you by sharing your content with their communities -- in emails, social media posts, in the press or even at events. 2 Degrees is a small food company, but when we get placement or partnerships with major airlines, large corporations, huge retail chains, and global nonprofits, we get a lot of attention and press at no cost. This is the magic of cause marketing.

3. Tell the stories about the people you're helping
While we give back to these causes because it's the right thing to do, the stories we tell are what ultimately drive sales, awareness, brand loyalty and as a result, our social mission to end childhood hunger. People change their purchasing habits partly because of product quality, but they also make these changes because of what the company stands for. Contrary to many other brands on the internet, the marketing messages that resonate most for our customers and community at 2 Degrees are not cat pictures, discounts or inspiring quotes.The ones that resonate are the stories we tell about the lives we've made better.

That's it. Pick your cause, find partners that do great work, and then tell stories about the lives your consumers are able to touch. You can bridge the gap between two worlds. This decision to add a social component to your business isn't for show. It's a strategic business decision that pays off -- not just for your company, but for the world.