One night, during my third stint with lung cancer, I lit a candle and placed it in a hand-blown glass piece. The comfort that glow brought me was immeasurable, and I just knew, then, that I wanted to bring that same warm feeling to others in my position.

I decided to start glassybaby because I wanted to make votives and drinking glasses that bring light to people in a dark place. That endeavor slowly turned into a company that now aims to give back to organizations and people in need by donating 10 percent of our annual revenue to a foundation of our choice.

Profit margins and annual revenue shouldn’t be the only measures that define success for a company.

For me, the value that your work creates for other people is the true definition of success.

Lately, though, we’ve tried to look at that revenue we give away as another metric of success. Quantitative value carries importance, but it’s sometimes hard to measure its qualitative effect, which should be just as important.

We gave away a million meals in November to people in need, itself a large number that tells us exactly how many families we’re feeding. But the qualitative impact of that giving, which matters much more, is not measurable by statistics. Most of us take regular meals for granted, but for people who aren’t guaranteed food each day, a meal means so much more. For the people we feed, the value of that “million meals” figure is immeasurable.

So the value of a company can be qualitative, not just quantitative — and not just in terms of giving. If one of our products helps someone find strength during a tough time, how can you put a number on the value of that? Success can’t always be calculated in terms of profits.

Do Altruism and Competition Clash?

Benevolence is usually characterized as the opposite of competition. Within our company, teams compete to create products, and the best groups are rewarded. That friendly competition leads to increased production and better quality, which increases our sales and the amount we can donate.

On a larger scale, successful marketing is crucial for competition, especially for non-commodity, handcrafted products. Our experience shows that altruism is not only good for the world but it also effectively bolsters our brand’s reach and prestige.

People gravitate to altruism, and using a product with charitable ties is a beautiful way to show that interest.

We had no idea when we started donating 10 percent of all revenue that this philanthropy would be a key part of our marketing efforts.

Altruism and competition don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, our competitive ethos helps us give away more money. We couldn’t compete without giving, and we couldn’t give without competing.

Give Back and Go Forward

In 2017, we expect to exceed $22 million in revenue and donate $2.2 million to charity. Competitiveness and altruism may seem like conflicting concepts to some, but we’ve found through the work we’ve done that they can work together. Here are four strategies your business can utilize to get there:

1. Make your giving model stand out. The products you sell don’t have to be cheap or even “necessary” for people. Without a clear, innovative giving model, the story of our brand wouldn’t have been so compelling as to engage thousands of people.

Every one of our customers knows exactly how much of his or her purchase will be donated to help people, animals, and the planet heal. That level of transparency tells a great story and helps a product distinguish itself from the competition even more.

2. Empower your customer base. Customers need to feel ownership, agency, and pride in the giving. I distinctly remember when I had lung cancer, friends would constantly ask, “What can I do for you?” I never quite knew what to tell them.

When words are hard to find, customers can use a product that gives back not only to help others, but also to send good energy into the world. It feels good, and it does good.

3. Utilize nonprofit partnerships. Use the wide network nonprofits contain to reach people. After all, many nonprofits have large devoted communities interested in finding new ways to help.

Teaming up with charitable foundations is a plus for everyone. It increases sales, helps the nonprofit gain exposure and donations, and exposes the nonprofit’s donors to a new product. The best partnerships create value for everyone involved.

4. Choose causes you’re truly passionate about. Foundations closest to your heart are ideal because people can sense when you truly care. That’s something we hope to convey to our own customers: that we care deeply about the causes we invest in.

This authentic passion is crucial for us. It inspires people to pay more for something that allows them to participate in something bigger than themselves.

Balancing altruism and competitive nature in business may be challenging, but it is possible, profitable, and fulfilling. Paint a clear picture of the giving model you want to build, and pick charitable paths you’re passionate about following.

Numbers only tell you so much about your business. Aim for a mix of competitiveness and compassion to help your company be the best version of itself.

-Lee Rhodes

Lee Rhodes founded glassybaby in 2001 after a chance meeting between a tealight and a hand-blown glass vessel during her seven-year bout with cancer. Rhodes developed the idea for glassybaby’s one-of-a-kind votives and drinkers with the core mission of helping cancer patients she met during treatment afford basic needs such as bus fare, childcare, or groceries. Ten percent of the company’s entire revenue goes toward a charitable organization; to date, glassybaby has donated more than $6 million to 350+ nonprofits since opening its doors.


Leave a Reply