For corporations today, a premium is placed on creating positive social impact more than ever before. A company’s “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) goals often encompass cash donations, employer-matching gift programs, volunteer time and pro bono services to non-profit groups that generate tangible social benefits.
CSR is good for business. Studies show it improves financial performance, enhances community relationships and promotes employee engagement. According to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), an organization comprised of 150 CEOs of the world’s largest companies, companies with social impact programs performed better financially between 2012 and 2014 than those without these programs.
Customers are also interested in a company’s philanthropic efforts. A Nielsen study found that “55 percent of customers will spend more on products from companies that demonstrate they care.”
Perhaps most notable is the effect on employees. Volunteer initiatives enhance employee engagement, which reduces turnover and the related expenses. Corporations are battling to hire a shortage of top young talent in the science, engineering and technology fields, and CSR is a must-have for many millennial employees. As Bob Moritz, chair of the mega professional service firm PwC U.S. put it: “Millennials don’t only demand to know the organization’s purpose but are also prepared to leave the firm if that purpose doesn’t align with their own values.”
To channel the benefits of CSR for foster youth, business veterans Scott Henderson and Jordan Bartlett created Doing Good Works (DGW). As a “social enterprise,” DGW aims to maximize improvements for foster youth while making it easy for companies to incorporate CSR into their business cultures.
It began in 2013 when Henderson, a business operations expert, launched Haven Staffing in Laguna Hills, Calif., an employment agency specializing in placing foster youth in jobs. Within a short time, he realized the need was greater than job placement. Henderson set his sights on expanding the program to include training and mentorship for youth while also generating revenue to support more foster care organizations for a nationwide impact.
Together Henderson and Bartlett, who was adopted, have transformed the company into an organization that sells typical commodity products that all corporations use, but with the added value of the social impact of supporting foster youth job training, placement and mentorship.
To be successful, Henderson and Bartlett knew they couldn’t sacrifice quality or expect customers to pay more just for a good cause. Leveraging their business contacts, they launched Cause Cups, which sells coffee sourced from direct-trade farmers in Brazil and Ethiopia, and Promote4Good, which provides printed materials and branded promotional merchandise.
In their first year, Henderson reports that DGW generated $1 million in revenues, and in 2016 they forecast nearly $5 million in revenues.
“If we provide the same quality product at the same price or less, but 20 percent of profits go to support foster youth, it’s hard for businesses to say ‘no’ to that,” Henderson said.
Both Cause Cups and Promote4Good offer affiliate programs so that foster care organizations can earn additional revenue to support their causes.
“We make it easy for companies to incorporate CSR into their culture by hiring former foster youth or buying items they’d be buying anyway,” said Bartlett. “And our affiliate program allows organizations supporting foster youth to generate additional revenue for their own causes, which allows Doing Good Work’s ultimate social impact to be even bigger.”
Much of DGW’s proceeds have gone toward providing employment placement services to former foster youth. To date, Doing Good Works has placed 200 former foster youth in jobs throughout California. DGW is now piloting a digital training program developed by a former Navy Seal that teaches life skills, leadership, relationship building and conflict resolution to reach more youth across the country—and to better prepare them for success in the work world.
“Foster youth are accustomed to short-term thinking: ‘Where will I sleep tonight? How long will I be at this school or with this family?,'” Henderson said. “Plus, they’ve experienced more difficult situations than most of us. To be successful in a career, they need to shift to long-term thinking and planning, and they need to know how to deal with workplace conflicts that may trigger feelings from past bad experiences.”
Morris Wentworth agrees. Wentworth lived with multiple foster families from ages four through 13 when he was reunited with his father. In his early twenties, Wentworth was hired as one of DGW’s first employees.
“Before Doing Good Works, I struggled with being on time for work or even showing up,” he said. “I lost a lot of jobs, but Scott and Jordan wouldn’t put up with it. They gave me a sense of pride in my work, and I came to understand the importance of accountability and how to put myself in the best possible position to be successful.”
Now 26, Wentworth has a promising career in mortgage sales, and he says he always shows up 20 minutes early for work.
“When former foster youth learn life skills and how to handle what they’ve been through, they make amazing employees,” Bartlett said. “They’re loyal, appreciative and they aren’t afraid of things that scare the rest of us. We’ve got to keep giving them a chance for better outcomes.”