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  • Writer's pictureKaren Hopper

Transparency: A Great Asset (but also a potential liability)

I have donated to several racial justice organizations lately and the ones that stick out to me now are the ones who are going out of their way to show how my gift, no matter how small, is helping change lives and move the world forward.

Donors who are motivated to give by an event or other "occasion" are 146% more likely to want an impact report for their donation rather than to receive an additional thank you or acknowledgement - and as a donor, I feel this tremendously. But jumping beyond nonprofit land, where social good is literally the name of the game, corporate social responsibility is playing a more integral role in consumer decisions to purchase products - and how companies market those stances can be the difference between success and failure, especially when those customers want to see you living the values, and not just spewing empty words.

Customers are itching for purpose

Backing up a titch, you should know that more than 50% of customers surveyed in the Neilsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility report that they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact, and millenials and Gen Z buyers prefer to do business with corporations and brands with pro-social messages, sustainable manufacturing methods, and ethical business standards.

So the same principles that back a donor's decision to support an organization because of the work they're doing are coming into play with purchasing decisions - and the line between purchasing a product because of the product and the bigger picture of what that product represents is becoming increasingly blurry.

What does this mean?

Companies who have invested in this social good model, and who market themselves as such, are growing - some of them very rapidly, including companies such as Ben and Jerry's and Patagonia. But customers who purchase a product because of what that product stands for have a vested interested in seeing that company uphold their end of the bargain. That means that when it comes crashing down (Everlane, looking at you) it's much more damaging than it would be otherwise. This is where we can go back to the nonprofit model to see what has happened to those who have been burned. For some, like the Red Cross, their reputation allowed them to weather bad press but for others, like the Wounded Warrior Project - the damage can be lasting.

How to use transparency in your marketing:

1.) Be specific about what a customer can expect from you.

That includes if you intend to communicate regularly, say that. (you should be communicating regularly. If you don't think you should be, we should have a chat).

2.) Make your model easy to understand.

Businesses and nonprofits alike are notorious for talking in words only people on the inside understand. The long and short is that the groups that are able to clearly communicate their mission and how they're making the world a better place are more successful than those who cannot. If you need inspiration, check out charity:water and PeaceGeeks as well as Patagonia.

3.) Promote your social responsibility and impact model on your product pages (or your donation pages).

Don't make people hunt for it. If it's not on a page that a typical consumer sees in their checkout process, chances are, they will never see it - and the research shows that this social good material improves cart averages and donation conversions. In one recent test, a nonprofit was able to improve conversions by 16% by simply giving examples of what a donor's money could do.

If you're putting in the work to have a social good program, don't leave the money on the table.

4.) Be open about your principles in all channels, to get the most bang for your buck.

Again, this goes back to the "if they don't see it, they don't know about it." If you have a social good program, you have a competitive advantage. If you're a nonprofit, you are literally help changing the world. Show the impact, show the transformation, and make your customers and donors feel like part of the mission.


The Minnesota Freedom Fund took some heat initially for not 'spending all $35MM right away'; because donors are rarely reasonable, they want their gift to be the most important (another topic for another time). But by being transparent about the situation and addressing the criticism head on, Minnesota Freedom Fund was able to win more confidence from its base, and continues to provide insight into how their program is changing lives.

So the lesson? Be honest. Live up to your values. Show, don't tell.

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