The idea of business purpose has received a lot of attention in the last few years. And for good reason.
Studies have shown that consumers prefer to do business with companies that are socially responsible, or that show a dedication to a larger purpose beyond selling their products & services.
It’s an idea that Scott Morris has incorporated into his business.
Morris runs SRM Real Estate Group, a Real Estate and mortgage brokerage in Los Angeles. For 30 years, he ran his business the way you’d expect a Real Estate business to run.
But recently, he decided to change his business model, weaving his support for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation into his work.
“With every client that we work with, whether they're buying and financing home or selling a home, we donate a portion of, of our commission to JDRF,” he said. In addition to supporting JDRF, Morris also allows his clients to support – through a donation of his commission – charities and causes that are important to them.
To Morris, this isn’t a marketing campaign. He didn’t randomly choose JDRF because he thought it would sound good. The reason Morris supports JDRF, and has incorporated social purpose into his business, starts with a story about his son, Ryan.
Juvenile Diabetes, as it does for so many other families, came into the Morris household without warning and without invitation.
“My son was diagnosed with type one diabetes in 2011,” he recalled, adding that he didn’t know anything about it. “I mistakenly thought it was no big deal, that it meant that you probably shouldn't be eating sugars or sweets. But it's, it's so much more than that.”
Morris said he was in denial when Ryan first started showing symptoms. He thought his constant thirst, frequent urination, and fatigue were part of his active, teenage lifestyle.
“My son's an athlete, he's a, he's a baseball player,” he continued. “He was out in the hot weather, two, three hours, almost every day practicing with his sports.”
Finally, at his wife’s insistence, they took Ryan to the pediatrician. “He diagnosed him in five minutes,” Morris said.
Later that day, at the hospital, Morris and his wife were shocked when they saw Ryan change into a hospital gown. “Ryan was skin and bones. You could see his rib cage protruding,” Morris remembered. “In that moment that I knew that something was wrong.”
That day, Morris made two promises to himself. “First, I would do whatever I could to help Ryan get better,” he said. “And the other promise I made is that I wouldn't, I would never allow myself to feel that helpless again.”
That’s what led Morris to become an advocate for JDRF, and ultimately to incorporate it into his business.
But that’s easier said than done. He still had to run his business.
Despite his passion for JDRF and for social purpose, Morris said that his business is first and foremost a business.
“This is a for-profit business,” he said. “I've got to be able to show my clients that I'm the right person for the job to help them meet their unique goals.”
Morris added that his first concern and responsibility is to his clients, solving their problems, and doing so at a fair price. He said that’s true of any business. “I don't care what industry you're in, you to solve a problem that your customer has or some sort of pain point that they have.”
But by incorporating his Juvenile Diabetes Research advocacy into his business, and by helping his clients to support causes that are important to them, he’s adding another layer of value to his clients.
And more importantly, he feels that the work he’s doing has greater meaning. It matters more.
That has resulted in a greater drive to continue his work, and better relationships with his clients.
“We all want to feel like our lives mattered. That we made a difference in other people's lives,” he said.
Embrace the Stories
For any company that wants to build more purpose into their business, it has to be based on a story.
For Morris, it was the story of his son getting sick and what his family went through to come to grips with it. Scott embraced that story and lets it permeate his work.
He still focuses on being the best Real Estate broker he can be, but he is unafraid to tell his story and show why he’s so passionate about what he does. And that passion rubs off on his clients, and it’s a driving reason behind why future clients choose to work with him.
But he’s just a one-man show. How can this approach translate to larger organizations and big corporations?
It again goes back to the stories. Large companies might not have the kind of story that drives them the way Morris’s does.
But they do have access to stories that shape their customers or their employees. These are important groups that often share common experiences and stories that are important to them.
Companies looking to incorporate social purpose into their business should look for those stories.
Then tell those stories. They show the outside world why you support the initiatives you do, and that you’re authentic in your approach.
When it comes to incorporating purpose into your business, stories are the most important tools you have. They not only help you communicate to your customers and audiences, which in turn helps to set you apart and build your reputation, but they are the driving force behind your purpose.
They help drive your company’s actions, and they reinforce your company purpose to everyone who knows you.