John Tierney wrote in the New York Times recently that the public good will be well served by Google.org, which has announced that it will be set-up as a for-profit organization.
Tierney spoke with Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey who thinks capitalism (and its for-profit offshoots like Google.org) has gotten a bad rap.
...capitalism has a branding problem: its practitioners are experts at marketing everything except their own system. They justify corporate philanthropy, like donating to the United Way, not because it’s virtuous but because it buys public good will and thus contributes to the company’s bottom line.
Crass, but true. Mackey describes exactly the type of transactional relationship I have with many businesses around cause marketing. You help me, I help you. Right now it's the only language most businesses will and know how to speak. This is especially true when working with smaller, entrepreneurial companies that have yet to embrace Cause Marketing 2.0.
Mackey's vision for corporate giving for Whole Foods goes beyond tit-for-tat cause marketing.
He thinks that socially conscious companies like Whole Foods have flourished because their founders, employees and customers want a corporation to have grander goals than enriching shareholders. Mackey defines his company’s mission as improving the health and well-being of everyone on the planet.
Instead of cause marketing being just another part of the marketing mix, Mackey's Whole Foods - and companies like it -- elevates mission to the same level as margin. Cause marketing becomes not something you do, but something you are. It's not part of your marketing efforts, it's part of your company efforts.
But this transformation doesn't happen easily, or overnight. Businesses need some level of financial security and a loyal customer base. But, most importantly, they need to have goals that transcend capitalism and its mere exchange of money for goods and services.
Tierney quotes Adam Smith’s famous passage about the invisible hand moving capitalists to unwittingly serve the public good.
You might conclude that Google’s founders are better off investing their time and money in improving their core business. As Smith wrote, 'I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.'
I have no doubt that this is sometimes true. But if more businesses adopted a broader social vision for their capitalism, like Google and Whole Foods have, the impact on society would be very visible indeed.