– Rob Touchstone
Typically, when we think about giving to a cause, we see it as one-sided, that we’re making sacrifices for the sake of others. That’s what giving is: you’re giving to someone else.
At The Well Coffeehouse, and at many organizations across our country, we are reframing that sense. We’re showing you a clear, tangible return, in hopes of developing a lasting giving relationship. It’s not just “Please give us a donation.” We’re saying, “If you give us your buying power, we’ll do something with that.” This comes from our work in what we call missional entrepreneurship. We run our business, a 501(c)(3) coffeehouse, to bring missional impact to those struggling with the realities of water uncertainty in various parts of the world.
We have high expectations of ourselves and of what we hope to happen when customers enter our store. Great care is taken to ensure our coffee is done with excellence and our customers are served relationally. This is crucial because our product is not only enabling our mission, but the exchange that takes place serves as an invitation for the consumer to become consumed in a bigger narrative as their purchase becomes a catalyst to think about the world around them, to think about something more than coffee, but what coffee can do to help others.
In that way, we are inviting our customer community to change the world with us, one cup of coffee at a time.
This is why we believe the only thing better than our coffee is our mission. Our product enables the mission, and the mission drives the product.
A Reshaped Donor Relationship
We’re not just asking for donations. We’re giving you something in return that we believe will motivate you to continue to give to us. We’re giving you the rare opportunity to be both a customer of a product and a giver to a mission. You’re both acquiring something you desired, which is a cup of coffee or a product in our store, and you’re also choosing to purchase in a way that is helping others. This is a subtle form of empowerment as customers choose where and how to use their buying power.
Our mission sets the direction, laying the foundation for what we’re doing. It’s not aimless; it’s very purposeful. We’re asking people to purchase with us, which serves as their form of giving back to the world. This also creates a point of leverage. We sometimes jokingly tell our customers that we are leveraging their caffeine addictions to help make the world a better place.
The Sustainable Giving Platform
We believe we have created a sustainable way of addressing the water crisis in our world through a product that is proven to sell. Specialty coffee is an $18 billion dollar industry in the United States.
We’re simply inviting customers, who are going to buy their coffee somewhere, to consider buying from us, so that we can not only provide a high-quality experience, but give an opportunity to do something that makes a lasting impact. This creates a relationship that sometimes goes beyond the transaction as customers also decide to donate toward one of our clean water projects. This becomes more a partnership than just a mere donor relationship. It’s a sense of togetherness. Together we are bringing hope to others.
Nonprofits have to think beyond donor relations and donor support. The future of nonprofits may need to be more than just receiving gifts. That’s why we feel strongly about developing products that are sold or services that are given. Nonprofits should strongly consider engaging the business world. The term “nonprofit” is a bit of a misnomer because it seems to infer that we are not FOR profit. We are very much for profit because the profits are what provide hope. The key is that we are being prophetic over those profits by directing them beyond ourselves and into the lives of those in need.
Nonprofits need to be thinking in the future about, not only sending money, but developing solutions within the region to which they’re sending those funds. The more deeply we can get ourselves entrenched in the solution, rather than just throwing money in that direction, the more long-lasting and sustainable a solution we’ll create. This means creating microeconomies and breaking poverty cycles in a way that empowers communities in need.
The Future of the Sector
The future of the nonprofit, or social, sector may arise through a bit of blurring the lines. We have traditionally seen nonprofits as donor-based, and for-profits as business. I’d like to see those worlds come together. This is why I think “business as mission” is a vital concept. This moves beyond nonprofit or for profit and instead focuses on how a business can be “for people” from beginning to end. That includes the way that business conducts itself in every aspect of the business from the lowest to highest level. Even more, it involves that business creating solutions. For example, at The Well, we can help make a difference from the ground to the grounds, from the seed to the cup. This process begins with where and how we buy our coffee beans and continues all the way through how we direct the profits made on the cup of coffee those beans produced.
Leading with Passion for Mission
Lead your organization from within. You need buy-in from everybody who’s part of your organization, so everyone must understand that this is social or missional. They can’t be seeking something for self. You must create a culture of service, a culture of giving. This must be modeled by the leadership of the business.
Servant leaders do not set themselves up as dictators, but as servants empowering others. This requires sacrifice and vision. It is the sacrifice of living for something beyond self and the vision to see that it’s worth it, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
Rob Touchstone is co-founder of The Well Coffeehouse and planter of the WELL_HOUSE community, serving in the lead teaching and pastoral role. He is also an adjunct professor and Director of Missional Entrepreneurship at Lipscomb University. wellcoffeehouse.org
This article is reprinted from Vol. 2, No. 2, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!
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