Paying it forward – good karma or good business sense? Both?

(04 /12 /2014)

I’m a big believer in paying it forward.  Personally, and in business, if you’re doing well, my belief is that you should give something back.  There are many ways this can be done – donating money or goods to charities, buying raffle tickets to raise money for a good cause even when you’re not that interested in the prizes, doing something out of your comfort zone to raise funds for a cause that you believe in.  It may be a little or it may be lot – but every little bit counts.

In the Australian café space, we’ve recently seen the rise of the “Suspended Coffee Movement” which encourages patrons to buy coffee and food for future customers in need.  The program started about a century ago in the working class cafes of Naples, Italy where a person who had some good luck purchased two coffees – one for themselves and the other “suspended” for a person in need.  The tradition has recently gained momentum and has spread throughout cafes in Europe, US, Canada, South American and Australia.  There are about 30 cafes in Australia that are part of the program, with one of the first Australian participants being a Brisbane café.  Various systems are used to track how many suspended coffees or meals are available and consumed, while social media and word-of-mouth plays a key role in promotion of the movement.

But why would cafes want to be involved in this movement?  And does it have any advantages from a business perspective?  As a business owner, being involved in something altruistic and giving back to those in need, makes you feel damn good!  Establishing and running a business isn’t easy and back in the days when you were setting up, if there weren’t people around who believed in you and backed you, you may not be where you are today.  So this type of program is a great way to repay some of that personal “debt”.  But from a business perspective, there are several advantages.  It creates goodwill within the community which in turn can lead to increased customer awareness and business.  It enables new connections and relationships to be developed and your business will have played an integral part in that process.  There is no cost to be involved in such a movement and as it has the potential to increase repeat business, profit can also increase.  And those who do “take” will often “give back” and therefore, continue to support your business.

The program isn’t all roses unfortunately – there is the possibility that patrons in need may take advantage of the suspended coffees and meals, meaning those in real need may miss out.  It may also take some time to implement and refine the system to track the suspended coffees and meals and this may be a drain on the business.  There is also the possibility the regular patrons will be “put out” by those consuming the suspended meals or coffees if they are considered inappropriately dressed or dirty for example, which may have a detrimental impact on business.

Overall, these movements can certainly be good for business.  Before jumping in though, it is essential to work out what your business is realistically capable of doing – are you committed to implementing and refining a “pay it forward” system or would a donation to a charity that focuses on people in need work better for your business?  And do you have consumer support and appropriate social media coverage to promote the movement? Ultimately, it doesn’t take a great deal to give something back and support those in need…who knows, the day may come where you might just need that suspended cup of coffee yourself!

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