This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Nancy Mahon, SVP of global philanthropy and corporate citizenship for The Estee Lauder Companies and global executive director for the MAC AIDS Fund, has some counsel for social entrepreneurs and other business leaders interested in impact. It begins with context. We are in “the golden age of purpose.”
“We are seeing an acceleration of a trend that has been in motion for some time where consumers are voting with their dollars and they are saying yes we care that you care. We share your values and we want not only a good financial model, but great products and a place to work and a great stock to invest in, we want a sustainable business. You have to make the world a better place,” Mahon says.
MAC Cosmetics, an Estée Lauder brand, has been selling Viva Glam lipstick for more than 20 years and giving every penny of the retail revenue to the MAC AIDS Fund to fight AIDS. At the end of 2017, the lifetime total raised reached $480 million with $25 million raised in 2017.
Mahon summarizes the strategy, saying, “The more products you sell the more money you are able to give away,” adding, “We try and really marry how we can do good business and also do good for the world.”
Still, it is important for social entrepreneurs and other business leaders to understand the model more completely. The retailers who sell MAC Cosmetics agree to remit 100% of the sales price for Viva Glam lipstick and “lipglass” to MAC Cosmetics, which then remits the entire amount to the MAC AIDS Fund, which then funds programs to fight the disease.
Retailers sacrifice their profits on these products and MAC Cosmetics still has to produce, distribute and market the products. In the marketing department, they get some help. In the past, luminaries like Rhianna, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga have served as spokespeople for the products at a fraction of their market value.
In 2017, Taraji P. Henson, who played in the hit film Hidden Figures and also stars in the TV drama Empire, was added to the roster. She was joined by Jussie Smollett, one of her Empire costars for the campaign. For 2018, the singer SIA stepped up to promote the cause and the brand.
“We combine the power of celebrity with the power of purpose,” she says.
“What we find is the most effective use of celebrity in the Viva Glam campaign are celebrities who are what we call the real deal, who are willing to talk in a very authentic way about the issues they’ve confronted and why that drives them to give back,” Mahon explains.
She is careful to share credit for the impact with the makeup artists who sell the products, the MAC Cosmetics employees and the customers.
Despite being in good times for social purpose, Mahon notes that the world is prematurely moving past AIDS. Government funding is being cut. So, even as she says, “we can see how we can end AIDS,” she acknowledges there are challenges ahead.
“Four hundred and eighty million dollars, while a lot of money is not enough money. So we are working with other donors to be as effective as we can,” she says. The MAC AIDS Fund partners with the UN and other NGOs to stretch its dollars and to maximize impact.
Mahon works toward an objective of ensuring that everyone, regardless of their economic background, where they were born, their age, their employment status, their minority status or any other factor has access to AIDS prevention protocols and treatment if needed.
She challenged us to do something now. “The good news is that I feel [we are in] the golden age of purpose. The question for us, for people like me and for you, is how to capitalize on it. How do we take the discussion how do we take the work even deeper and stronger now that we have such an incredible listening in the world?”
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!