Startup founders set out to change the world, and a new generation of entrepreneurs are adding the phrase “for the better”.
Some of Australia’s most successful founders and investors are not only addressing their carbon footprint, and social justice and equity issues, they’re also building businesses that look beyond their core focus to leave the planet a better place.
One easy path to help set the values of a growing startup is Pledge 1%.
It’s a global philanthropic movement – founded by Australian tech giant Atlassian – that encourages and empowers companies of all sizes and stages to donate 1% of their staff time, product, profit, and/or equity to any charity of their choosing.
Globally, some of the biggest names in tech from Slack to Adobe, Zoom, Bullhorn, Twilio, Yelp and Salesforce, have taken the Pledge.
More than 1000 Australian companies, from new startups to tech unicorns have signed up to Pledge 1%, including Canva, Envato, SafetyCulture, Humantix, NextDC and Blackbird.
It’s an easy way for early-stage companies to leverage a portion of their future success to support their communities, because important thing about Pledge 1% is that it’s not always about cash.
There are four pledge types – product, equity, profit, or staff time – and companies and their teams can commit in any combination to the charity of their choice. And it can change over time as your startup grows and scales.
Canva’s big picture
When it comes to Australian tech startups taking on and changing the world, it’s hard to go past Canva.
Head of Social Impact, Robyn King, is straightforward about the company’s goals: “One: Build the world’s most valuable company. Two: Do the most good we possibly can.”
With more than 30 million people around the world using the platform, Pledge 1% is central to Canva’s approach.
“Two of our core values at Canva are ‘Be a Force for Good’ and ‘Make Complex Things Simple’,” King said.
“Pledge 1% seemed like a transparent and simple way to hold ourselves accountable to these values by making a public pledge about our commitment to social impact work.”
Everyone at Canva has pledged to commit 1% of the company’s time, product, profit and equity towards making the world a better place.
Achieving that goal adds another layer of engagement in the team.
“There are no hard and fast rules, which means we were able to bring a unique approach to how we wanted to live out the pledge,” King said.
For Collis Ta’eed co-founder and chair of Envato, signing up to Pledge 1% was all about being part of something bigger.
“It’s about showing support for a movement to get more startups thinking about how to benefit the world in a more holistic way. Our motivation is much more to spread the idea to other organisations,” he said.
And as Envato grew, so did the company’s commitment. It has increased its profit contribution to charitable causes to 2% annually, and launched a Foundation to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The Envato Foundation helps focus the company’s philanthropic efforts, with Envato putting 1% of its profits into it, alongside an additional 1% towards charitable work in countries were the company has subsidiaries.
Collis said the flexibility of Pledge 1% made it easier to maintain their commitment as Envato evolved.
“The nice thing about a percentage-based system is that it flexes with the company,” he said.
“In years where our profits are lower, the pledged commitment also goes down. And when times are good, so is our ability to deliver on the commitment.”
Like Robyn King at Canva, Collis found high levels of engagement from their work with Pledge 1%.
“The broader team also gets great mileage out of knowing that working at Envato supports charities and stakeholders out in the community,” he said.
Humanitix co-founder Joshua Ross is one of those founders. His social impact startup is registered as a charity, so walking the talk was a no brainer, but committing still delivered unexpected benefits.
Pledge 1% transformed Humanitix and the lives of thousands of young people.
The ticketing platform directs all profit from booking fees towards projects to close the education gap through Indigenous education and literacy programs for young girls.
Every event with Humanitix as its ticket partner is, by default, supporting Pledge 1%, including events for Westfield and the United Nations.
Another unexpected benefit Ross discovered was how being part of Pledge 1% made it easier to attract high-calibre staff.
“It’s because the team bought into our mission appreciates how growth in Humanitix directly translates to growth in social impact,” Ross said
And if more companies sign up, he believes Pledge 1% could become the world’s biggest philanthropic movement.
“It’s a global game-changer, and we can all make this choice,” Ross said.
The important thing, Canva’s Robyn King adds, it that it’s sustainable for every business.
“I think the key to a movement like Pledge 1% is to show that this can be done sustainably, without negatively impacting business health,” she said.
“I just want to let the years mount up, and show a growing body of donation that followed the pledge.”
Everyone – companies and the people who work for them – has a social and moral responsibility to contribute towards solving urgent challenges around the world.
“Not only is it the right thing to do – it’s one of the most important things we can do,” she said.
Australian venture capital firm Blackbird changes the world with the investments it makes in startups. It joined Pledge 1% to the team could also have a lasting impact on the social issues they care about.
Joel Connolly, head of the Blackbird Foundation, which oversees the Pledge 1% commitment, said it also well as creating a more meaningful experience for the team.
“We are always looking for ways to create meaning for them and through Pledge 1% we can give them the opportunity to engage with social issues that are important to them,” he said.
Alongside the flexibility Pledge 1% offers in finding ways of giving that suit your business and its people, it inspires change in ways that are meaningful for everyone involved. It’s also a process of discovery – coming to understand everyone’s passions along the way, as Connolly explains.
“You have to ask some deep questions around the causes you care about, what it means to give and how you can integrate it into your work day to day,” he said.
Make it your DNA
Connolly’s advice to startup founders and anyone else thinking of joining Pledge 1% is don’t wait.
“Do it early! When you decide to start a company, the first day, that’s when you should take the Pledge,” he said.
“Make it a part of your culture from day one.”
Envato’s Collis Ta’eed echoes Connolly.
“It’s easiest when a business is small, which is why the Pledge 1% movement is such a neat idea – you get businesses when they are small and growing, and no-one is too fussed,” he said.
“When they are larger and there are lots of stakeholders at the table, the pledge is already part of the fabric of the business.”
Pledge 1% is an easy model to businesses of all sizes and stages have an impact. It only takes 30 seconds to take the pledge, and you can always update your pledge type and information later.
Click here to find out more and take the Pledge too.