As a for-profit, B-to-B office supply company based on the Newman’s Own business model, obviously our primary contribution to the community is through the millions of dollars in profits we’ve donated over the past 21 years.
But we quickly realized that the pro bono model of leveraging other business assets could have a profound positive community impact too.
Over time, a successful business builds a whole arsenal of assets. We have a deep reservoir of employee talent, a fleet of trucks, warehouses, supply chain access and influence, bank credit lines, a broadly visited website, regular contact with thousands of customers, conference rooms, and the list could go on and on. The first priority claim on these assets needs to be to our customers. But when we asked ourselves, “How can we use existing assets under our control for additional community benefit?” it is amazing what possibilities came into focus.
Here are just a few examples:
We still own our trucks even when they return empty from their daily delivery runs. We created our e-Waste Pick Up Program to use those empty trucks to pick up the massive amounts of electronics waste from our clients and deliver those old computers to a job training program. That program repairs them for use by schools and nonprofits. In simpler terms, the pro bono investment of our distribution capacity, when previously unproductive, now creates much needed jobs in our community.
Another, perhaps even more amazing example is our partnership with K to College, a nonprofit working to provide free school supplies to homeless and very low income children in California public schools. We essentially “lent” our buying power in our supply chain, which includes school supplies, and our warehouse and logistics infrastructure to the K to College program in a way that resulted last year in 157,000 backpacks filled with a full term’s school supplies for needy school children. We collaborated to create perhaps the largest free school supply program in the U.S. largely by the effective power of pro-bono.
Beyond the more typical lending of technical expertise and employee participation in community volunteerism, which we also engage in, it is astounding what can be accomplished with other innovative uses of business assets in a pro bono context. That’s why we were thrilled to take the Billion + Change pledge and proudly add our efforts to the cause.
Call this common sense marketed well. Virgin America has installed "hydration stations" at San Francisco International Airport's "green" terminal. Normally, after the TSA pats you down, X-rays your undies, and confiscates your Poland Spring, you have to shell out $4 or so for monopoly-priced airport water. Not any more—well, not at SFO, anyway.
Sure, you can bring your empty water bottle through security and fill it up at a water fountain at just about any airport (well, not any airport). And SFO has had "hydration stations" for a while now. But now Virgin is jumping in with an endorsement, branding refills as the smarter way to travel, and even pushing water bottles with the company logo. This is Virgin doing what Virgin does best, and making something that's been around seem cooler—the eco-friendly version of on-board lounge music and purple mood lighting.