One-For-One: A Charity Problem You Can Help Solve

As many of you who follow along with the blog know, it’s long been my mission to make charity and giving back a strong part of the DNA at Trek Light Gear.   Both online and offline you’ll often hear me talking about my belief in ‘business for a cause’ and how important it is to me that making a difference in the world is an integral part of why Trek Light Gear exists, not just a side effect of running a business.

On a personal level I’ve seen how a simple hammock can change people’s lives – it has the power help you relax, de-stress, get outside more, sleep better, connect with nature and improve your health and well-being.  Multiply that effect across thousands of people and you’ll see why I believe that hammocks can help change the world.

My goal when I started Trek Light Gear was to find a way to take that effect and magnify it.  In other words, in addition to the personal benefits of owning and using a hammock,  I wanted the actual act of purchasing a hammock to create a ripple effect of its own throughout the world. It’s not business for business sake, it’s business with a purpose – from start to finish the entire experience can have a positive effect with an exponential potential.

So, a few years back, I kicked off the Buy A Hammock, Plant A Tree program and blogged about it here.  Since the launch of that program we’ve helped to plant thousands of trees in areas around the U.S. that desperately need reforestation and the number of trees we’ve planted is growing every single day.

The program has been so successful and so important to me that in the past year I’ve been on a new mission to expand it so we can accomplish much more and help even more causes throughout the world.  Protecting our planet’s forestry is a cause that’s obviously near and dear to my heart, but there are so many other ways that I see Trek Light Gear being able to have an impact.

In a nutshell, I want to extend the ‘buy this, we donate this’ charity model in two ways: to cover more products in our line-up so it’s not just tied to our hammocks, and to connect our brand with more causes that cover not just environmental issues but humanitarian and social needs as well.

For example, every time a mosquito net is sold we’ll work with a malaria organization to provide a net to those desperately in need.  Buy a rain fly and we’ll work with a water organization to deliver clean water where it’s needed most.  It gives us the opportunity to literally save lives every time a product is sold – and I can’t think of something that makes me happier to be a business owner than that concept right there.

So, what’s the problem?

I’ve recently been reaching out to several organizations that I want to work with and I’ve run into a very similar story at many of them.  What I’m being told by many is that they can’t allow donations to be made that are tied directly to the sale of a product (and advertised that way). 

In other words, I can sell a product and donate money to them as a business. I can advertise the fact that my business makes regular donations to their charity and that by supporting my business you’re directly helping that charity.  But, if I include anything that specifically says ‘when you buy this product we’ll donate this’ there’s suddenly a problem.

What’s so interesting about the situation is that I’ve heard completely different reasons from just about every organization.   For example:

We’d love to work with you, but if we allow you to donate to us via the sale of a product then we can’t say no to another company that wants to do it, even if we don’t approve of the company or the product they’re selling.  {Huh? I’m no expert, but aren’t non-profits allowed to accept or not accept donations from anyone they want and protect the use of their name and brand just as any other organization can?}
There are tax and legal implications that make it risky.  {Me: So it’s against the law or violates a tax code? Them: No, not exactly, but it’s a grey area.}
Sure we can do it, but only if you pay us a hefty licensing fee to use our name and logo on your website.

It’s been a frustrating process to say the least and it’s almost comical when you realize how many obstacles I’ve been running into trying to find someone willing to partner up and accept our donations.
Looking For A Solution
What’s most confusing to me in all of this is that I’m not seeing how what we’re trying to do is any different from what I’ve seen around me for years.  How many times have you seen the words “__% of the proceeds from every sale will benefit the __ foundation?”

How is that any different from me wanting to say “With every sale we’ll donate ____ to the ___ foundation”???

I’m becoming more and more convinced that I’m either somehow just not getting my point across when I speak to these organizations or that I’m just talking to groups that are too big and bureaucratic to get anything done that doesn’t fit their standard practice.

Which is why I’m writing this blog post.

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