Behind the Brand Strategy at Give Something Back


Behind the Brand Strategy at Give Something Back

Give Something Back is like no other office supplies company that exists. The founding principles of Give Something Back was to create wealth and then redistribute that wealth back to the communities in which they serve. It’s a for profit business model with a societal agenda to do Good. The Founders, Mike Hannigan and Sean Marx have been instrumental in the creation of what is now a legalised corporation called the benefit corporation. This is a new class of company required by law to create a material impact on society for the Greater Good.

Hannigan points out that “the US is a powerful and rich country, but in some communities the basic needs of health and safety are not being met despite the fact that businesses are doing well.” At Give Something Back, all the profits that they make go towards non-profits that are chosen democratically by their customers. Similar to any business, Give Something Back needs to budget and plan for their financial future. Admittedly some years are more fruitful than other years and this is reflected in the amount Give Something Back can contribute. Last year their donations were in excess of $ 500,000 and since they started the company they have donated over $ 5 Million. While the company offers competitive salaries and benefits, it’s leaders stay true to their principles and commit to making below three quarters the industry norm.

You might think that Give Something Back’s community involvement would be passed onto the customer in terms of higher prices, but in reality it operates much like any company that competes on price, customer service and product mix. In addition to customers getting competitive rates, Give Something Back’s tagline “where values meet value” ensures reinvestment of profit within the community.

The founding owners’ goal from the very beginning was to prove that the benefit corporation model could work and be sustainable for businesses. I’d say that after 20 years of successful operations and the 371 companies in the US that have now legalised as a benefit corporation that Give Something Back can certainly check that goal off the list.

As for what the future looks like for Give Something Back, one can anticipate significant US market growth, additional products in the mix and of course greater financial contribution in the community. While they currently only operate in the US, I’d like to see them become the number one business-to-business office supplies company in Canada and the US. If I had the choice between Staples, Office Depot or Give Something Back, I’d always choose Give Something Back. It’s a win-win for their business, customers and the community.

When asked about their values as a company Hannigan talked about two key behaviours in their business: 1) creating financial value; and 2) community impact.

Given the competitive nature of their business, Give Something Back must always remain competitive on the bottom line price in order to compete for larger contracts with their less societal conscious competitors. Give Something Back regularly wins contracts that are awarded to the low cost bidder like The City and County of SF, Alameda County and The City of Oakland.

Give Something Back takes value creation to a whole new level because for them if it’s not enough to consider only the financial side of value they also care deeply about the positive impact they make in the community. Along with this value, has come some difficult choices like discontinuing sales of bottled water, despite it’s higher profit margins, due to its wasteful environmental footprint. Hannigan says they would not sell tobacco or fire arms either. It’s a fine line to balance, but Give Something Back always remains true to its mission.

We love this double meaning about values in their tagline: Where Values meet Value

The point here is that the benefit business model works. Give Something Back proves that business people can create sustainable businesses while making a societal and financial difference in communities.


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