By Jennifer James and Nathan Rudyk

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either an entrepreneur or deeply involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. And if you haven’t already, the rodent’s excrement of daily financial headlines is likely prompting you to plan for leaner operations. But don’t trick yourself into planning for meaner. Meaner doesn’t pay.

Customers don’t want to see your company turn mean – quite the opposite in fact. 78% of U.S. consumers – the ones at ground zero of the globe’s financial turbulence – expect companies to maintain or increase financial support for charities, according to a recent study done by Opinion Research Corp.

85% of customers have more positive feelings towards companies with charitable causes, and 75% indicated that they are more likely to buy a product if the purchase is directly tied to an issue they care about. Reaping goodwill and increased sales, many companies are wearing their charity of choice on their sleeves.

On market2world’s sleeves we wear SchoolBOX, a registered Canadian charity that supports the right of every child in Central America to a basic education. Established in 2006 by a driven 30-year-old named Tom Affleck,
the organization’s start-up phase included the typical “family and friends” round of financing in our community of Almonte, Ontario.

The inspiration for SchoolBOX came in 2006 shortly after Tom met a young girl outside her family's shack in northern Nicaragua. He gave the girl a notebook and a pencil. According to a Sept. interview we initiated for
Tom in the Ottawa Citizen
: "Her dad came around the corner and he was so excited. He told her, 'Now that you have a notepad, you can go to school this year.' I was so overwhelmed by that experience. I still am."

SchoolBOX has sent over 20 volunteers to Central American communities not just to supply notebooks and pencils, but to help build libraries, schools and life skills programs where those tools can be put to use. To date one library and one school has been completed with plans to build several more schools in 2009. Tom is in Nicaragua with a volunteer team right now completing one of them.

Like many of our clients, SchoolBOX is an entrepreneurial success story – increasing donor contributions by an incredible 940% over the last year. Since we joined the cause, the market2world team has helped SchoolBOX garner well-deserved print and TV features in media outlets that have never told the SchoolBOX story, but like us, are attracted to the grassroots, can-do spirit that drives Tom and his team of volunteers to transform the lives of children.

How much does this cost us? We’re estimating a donation of $12,000 to $15,000 in PR and marketing services this year. But as legendary Almonte entrepreneur and Order of Canada Recipient Leonard Lee, founder of
woodworking and gardening tool retailer Lee Valley Tools and Canica Design likes to say, this is a “project” not a “cheque”.

Leonard’s “projects”, which never involve cutting a cheque to a good cause unless it provides existential survival like a homeless shelter or foodbank, have raised $1.4 million over the last 10 years for charities like the United Way and Nature Conservancy. These projects extend to several other causes including the National Arts Centre (NAC) where Lee Valley Tools donates the sales proceeds of NAC Orchestra recordings back to the NAC in return for the ability to play royalty-free music in its stores.

And as we learned at Carleton University’s Engage! Social Innovation Challenge Awards where Leonard spoke last week, his wound closure and surgical instrument company Canica Design also supported SchoolBOX for the organization’s first fund-raising brochure.

What do we get out of our project with SchoolBOX? First, believing in SchoolBOX helps us believe more in ourselves. When a fresh TV or print interview comes through for the charity, the joy runs freely within the
market2world team.

Second, the SchoolBOX account allows us to exercise new PR muscles, since many of our B2B clients don’t require interaction with consumer morning show hosts and lifestyle writers. This has already provided payback with new media relationships that have benefited our existing clients.

Third, market2world clients have noticed that we have a heart as well as PR and marketing acumen.

Does a kinder approach to business benefit businesses “up the food chain”? (PRODUCT) RED, a multi-brand campaign that raises money to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Africa, has attracted the support of Gap Inc. The jean giant donates half the profits from all (PRODUCT) RED sales to the fund, giving customers a way to donate while also fulfilling their own needs. Apple Inc. has also joined in, donating $10 from the sale of every red 4GB iPod nano to the cause. By marrying charitable good with commerce, Gap and Apple are providing unique products that satisfy a market need while also helping solve a global health problem.

As of this writing, Gap, with the help of its RED product line, has a market capitalization of US $8.64 billion, compared to peers such as Abercrombie & Fitch Co. at US $1.42 billion and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. at $1.76 billion. Apple has experienced the same phenomenon. It has a $80.09 billion market cap, leading the valuation race above Dell Inc. with $19.78 billion and Hewlett-Packard Co. with $81.59 billion. (Note that Hewlett-Packard's revenues are US $118.36 billion versus Apple's $32.48 billion for the last
12 months.)

So do what you need to do to get leaner, but remember that the market doesn’t reward meaner. Doing good while you do business makes good dollars and great sense.

* This entry was inspired by another market2world blog and was originally sent out as a newsletter on Dec. 3, 2008. Sign up for the PR and Marketing Impact newsletter here.

(Jennifer James is a Communications Strategist and Nathan Rudyk is President and CEO of market2world communications inc., Canada's tech PR and product launch agency.)