THE BLOG
11/20/2014 10:29 pm ET Updated Jan 22, 2015

An Open Letter to Business Owners Everywhere: You Can Do Better

Dear Business Owners,

As the founder of a marketing consultancy that focuses on social change, I work with my fair share of nonprofits. My team builds awareness around issues like lack of access to healthcare and clean water. We educate communities on ways to be part of a solution. We arm advocates with tools to activate their networks. Our work inspires us, and it's incredibly rewarding. But if I'm being honest, it can also become quite depressing.

You see, nonprofits are reliant upon grant applications and donations to do their work -- and for close to 40 years, the percentage of GDP allocated to philanthropy in the U.S. has hovered around 2 percent . Since most organizations don't have (or can't have) sustainable sources of revenue, a nonprofit's ability to grow, to serve more people, is entirely dependent on whether it can raise the necessary funds. Well... when you spend as much time as I do focusing on social issues, this level of need can feel overwhelming.

As a society, we are quick to complain about global issues: everything from an inadequate educational system and crises of addiction and domestic violence, to climate change, poverty, unemployment, and sex trafficking. But, rather than do something about these issues, we continue to put the onus on nonprofit organizations and government to exact the change that we hope for. And therein lies the problem... To exact that change, those nonprofits need to raise money. And in order for that to happen, they need to increase the percentage of GDP allocated to philanthropy -- that same low percentage that hasn't changed in 40 years.

It's time for us to look at it differently.

Instead of working to increase this stagnant percentage, what if we acknowledge that our revenue streams can be a more sustainable method for addressing community issues? What if more of us work to build impact into our existing business models?

Take Intel, for example. In January, the company announced that all of their microprocessors were conflict-free. Not only that, but the CEO went on to make a personal commitment to eliminate all conflict minerals from Intel's products by 2016. What does this mean? That Intel's production will no longer fuel ongoing conflict in eastern Congo.

Not only that, but initiatives like Intel's mean that other companies will need to follow suit in order to compete in the market. With the age of the Internet, consumers are more informed than ever before, and studies have shown "social consciousness" to be an increasingly important factor when they're choosing where to shop or what to buy.

The possibilities are endless, and the potential for impact? Inspiring. Your companies can stand up in solidarity against the use of child labor; create specialized job training programs for marginalized populations; provide overstock as donations to communities in need; re-invest a portion of profits into startups in developing nations; make a transition to solar energy; or commit to shorter work hours and better health benefits for employees.

Lest you think this only applies to large corporations, let me clarify. A neighborhood restaurant that chooses to buy local is boosting their local economy. A coffee shop that puts a training process in place for local teenagers who have dropped out of school contributes to a decrease in unemployment and crime rates. And individuals play a part too: we are the consumers. Every one of us holds power in that we can selectively support the businesses that abide by a better model. It isn't about getting everyone to care about everything; but rather, getting everyone to care about something. Change has to start somewhere. How can it start with you?