We hear words like ‘impact’, ‘purpose’ and ‘mission-driven’ thrown around the business building space. These words act as virtual signals – or perhaps just buzzwords – for a business that on the surface appears more altruistic than others.

But how often do we stop to consider what it exactly means to be a purpose driven business, and who gets to decide if the criteria are being fulfilled?

Do you need to be Greenpeace to be a purpose-driven business?

In the words of Carrie Bradshaw… so I got to thinking.

As a Coach and founder myself, I support new and aspiring founders to build fulfilling businesses so I realised I should indeed have a good answer to this question. To have a criteria of sorts, to help determine whether or not a business is a ‘purpose-driven’ business.

So here’s my attempt to define such criteria, as you read, I encourage you to review your own business and whether  there is anything else you’d add to the list:

The business has a coherent story and place in the world

Rather than simply offering whatever brings in the next pay check, it has a strong sense of self and knows what it stands for without compromising on its core values, vision or purpose. It knows that this means sometimes saying no to commercial opportunities and funding that does not align.

The business stands for a mission that is bigger than itself

It does not just exist to sell a product or service in and of itself, but to contribute to a wider change and/or movement.

The founder deeply cares about the problem that the business is solving

And is not just chasing the ‘next big thing.

The business is conscious

It treats its customers, employees and suppliers with care and is conscious about its impact within society and the wider environment. Businesses that are prioritising purpose could even consider getting B Corp certified to really demonstrate their commitment to using business as a force for good in the world.

The materials produced by the business

Marketing, events, content serve to increase awareness on broader issues and how consumers can respond to them (whether they buy from that particular business or not).

The business avoids any and all activities

Which could perpetuate existing inequalities, injustices or exploitative practices in the world such as climate crisis, child labour or sexual violence.

Growth is not pursued for growth’s sake

When it comes to building wealth, growing a customer base or building new products/ services, the business considers the impact on existing stakeholders and the wider community to avoid waste or unnecessary damages. 

I see this criteria is subjective and by no means exhaustive but hope it provides a framework for you to build with purpose and acknowledge the duty of care you have as a founder should you follow this road.

A tall order perhaps. 

But I spoke to Steph Lau, programme manager at Foundervine, the social enterprise accelerator for early stage founders. She shared with me that “being a purpose-driven organisation, definitely doesn’t have to come at a cost to your business. As well as helping you stand out from competitors, it can allow you to connect deeply with your customers, and build major brand loyalty. If you’re building a purpose driven business my top tip would be to get really good at tracking and communicating your impact.”

Know that the ‘how’ is down to you. Whether you choose to make your business carbon neutral, make charitable contributions with your profits, or hire from underprivileged communities is in your choosing. 

Building a business is hard enough without the additional constraints but I believe there is something to be said for being mindful about your choices and putting energy into something that means something to the wider world, not just your bank balance.

The Found & Flourish team would love to hear from you, should every business strive to be purpose driven, or is this something only certain founders need to be considerate of?

Ellen Donnelly

Ellen Donnelly

About your author

Ellen Donnelly is Founder and Chief Coach at The Ask. She provides early stage founders and startup communities with coaching, workshops and content so that they can build businesses doing work they love. She’s a Londoner with a decade working as a talent consultant for tech startups before training as an ICF accredited coach and building The Ask.

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