A Q&A with James Citron, CEO of Pledgeling

Corporate Social Responsibility is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for large companies – it’s becoming a  requirement for every business that wants to build lasting customer loyalty among today’s mission-drive consumer base. Fortunately, it’s now easier than ever from small businesses to replicate the successes of some of the most successful mission-driven companies (i.e. Patagonia, Warby Parker) and seamlessly incorporate social impact into their business and cost-effectively, enabling  businesses to grow through giving and change the world.

Succeeding in today’s business climate is harder than ever. Consumers are more demanding than ever, companies are competing globally and the average lifespan of a company has decreased to its shortest level in fifty years. Despite these stark realities, there’s an important theme that has emerged from many of the world’s most successful and iconic companies – it’s a clear and transparent corporate social responsibility that has embedded social impact into the core of these business that unites their brand, their customers, and their employees. No longer is creating a great product enough. The data highlights this reality. For example, 80% of consumers want companies to stand for something more than profit,[1] and nearly 90% of Millennials representing over $1 trillion in purchasing power are willing to switch from one brand to a competitor if its mission is not aligned with their values.[2]

Most small business owners think they don’t have the means or resources to effectively integrate a social impact into their business. They don’t believe they have the time, the people, the budgets, or the technology to make it easy and fortunately, that is no longer true.

Let’s take a look at Shopify, for example, where the award-winning app Give & Grow, by my company Pledgeling, enables any merchant to integrate a charitable donation into any transaction in less than 5 minutes & share the real-time impact with their customers. With more than a thousand businesses using the app since its launch in the Shopify Marketplace only a few months ago, they’re proving how easy and effective it is for an ecommerce business of any size to grow through giving.

Below are three key tips to successfully incorporate social impact into a small business and demonstrate growth.

  1. Find the cause that inspires you & your customers – and is authentic to your company.

The key mistake most business owners have made in the past is to choose a cause or charity that is personally relevant to the business owner, but doesn’t fit the company’s brand and purpose. Seek out resources to help you identify a cause that is relevant to your core business.

Subscription brand YogaClub wanted to differentiate themselves from competitors and other brands in the athleisure space by integrating social impact across their customer experience and making it core to their brand. In partnering with Pledgeling and nonprofit organization LA’s BEST, they now lead with a social impact message that resonates with their customers: For every box delivered, YogaClub will provide a yoga class to a child in need. To date, more than 208,000 yoga classes have been donated through their company!

  1. Build a donation into your business model and your customer experience.

Even micro-donations ($1 or less per product sold!) can have a significant impact. Take a look at Elephant Pants, an online apparel brand that promotes $1 per item sold is donated to elephant conservation. To date, they have an entire product line created to support elephant conservation, they struck a deal on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank, and have raised over $180,000 for their cause! Micro donations through business can truly help to change the world. For businesses that have integrated impact effectively & measured it well, we’ve seen them increase customer lifetime value (LTV) by 30-50%, which is easily trackable via Quora, Stripe, Recharge or any payment platform.

  1. Share impact stories across all areas of your business.

Today’s customers want to understand the impact of a business, so bring it forward across all of your customer touchpoints. Showcase your commitment to social or environmental impact on the mission page of your website, across your social media channels and email communications, and even on your product packaging. Check out Generosity Water’s packaging and This Bar Saves Lives for examples of brands doing this effectively across all areas of their businesses. You can find inspiration in others who are doing this well and leading their industries regardless of size.

Make sure you do this last step and you will soon experience growth through giving!

James Citron is a serial mobile and social entrepreneur committed to harnessing the power of mobile technology to create a more connected, healthy and sustainable planet. As CEO of Pledgeling, Mr. Citron is focused on driving the organization’s growth and evangelizing the benefits of conscious business domestically and globally. Pledgeling powers over 1,000 companies’ CSR and social impact programs, driving business growth and over ten million dollars of social impact for thousands of nonprofits globally. A graduate of Princeton University, Citron lives in Venice, California with his wife and 2 children, and is personally passionate about helping to eradicate illiteracy, homelessness and hunger. He can be reached at @JamesCitron or

[1] Cone Communications Global CSR Study, 2017.

[2] Cone Communications CSR Strategy, 2016.

[3] Ebiquity Global CSR Study, 2015.

Social impact stock photo by kung_tom/Shutterstock