This $100 million company will donate $1 for your hero story

How optimism breeds success
How optimism breeds success

Life is Good, a company that traffics in optimism, wants customers to share "everyday heroes" stories.

For decades, corporate social responsibility felt like spinach: serious and good-for-you, but not much fun. You held a food drive or donated a percentage of sales to some cause. Innovation was reserved for products and marketing.

In recent years, though, companies have started innovating how they give as well as how they earn. Some of the most effective practices enlist consumers as philanthropic co-conspirators. Well-known examples include Toms and its imitators, which for every product sold donate a comparable product to someone in need. Communigift riffs off the nonprofit Charity: Water model by enabling the parents of a birthday boy or girl to redirect gift-giving to a child living in poverty. At Rosa's Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia, customers can pre-pay for a slice of pizza for a homeless person. (The pre-purchase program reportedly accounts for 10% of sales.)

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Life Is Good, the $100 million, Boston-based lifestyle business, has been experimenting with ways to engage people in giving without requiring them to buy something. The most recent are campaigns that tie monetary donations (on the part of the company) to customers' creative contributions. The efforts also serve to reinforce brand. Life Is Good traffics in optimism, and what is more optimistic than the intent to improve the world just by wielding a crayon or telling a story?

"Heroes of Optimism," which launched last week, encourages people "to look around their lives for someone they interact with all the time who amazes them," says Life Is Good co-founder Bert Jacobs. For every tale of an everyday hero submitted through August 3, the company will donate $1 to the Life Is Good Kids Foundation: a non-profit it operates to support organizations caring for vulnerable children. Consumers can submit stories via the company's site or email, or on Instagram using #GROWtheGood.

Of course Life Is Good, which expects several thousand submissions, could choose simply to donate the money without involving the public. But this approach is designed to strengthen the relationship with consumers while creating user-generated content that embellishes the brand. "We are sharing several stories a week on our web site," says Lisa Tanzer, Life Is Good's head of marketing. "We will pick some to feature at a deeper level, by producing a video or a photo montage."

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In the campaign's early days more than 600 people had already submitted stories. "They run the gamut," says Tanzer, "from somebody's mom who grew up in Vietnam and sold flowers in order to give her kids a better life.... to the UPS driver who is the most friendly guy in the neighborhood."

"Heroes" comes on the heels of a similar campaign inviting children to submit drawings of what makes their lives good. Over three months starting in March, more than 7,500 kids between the ages of 3 and 12 did so. Life Is Good gave $1 to its foundation for every picture it received. It is also featuring three of the designs on shirts, the proceeds from which also go to the charity.

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The drawing campaign "got the conversation started about doing good and helping others," says Jacobs. "We heard from a lot of parents that their kid felt he could make a little difference by doing this. And it's hard to get our own design team to come up with a cowboy on a shark."

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Life Is Good also raises money in more traditional ways: for example, donating 10% of every sale to the Kids Foundation. "But these campaigns don't have anything to do with buying a T-shirt or any other kind of good," says Jacobs. "Our consumer base wants to be engaged on a personal level. This lets them do that while raising awareness" of both the cause and the brand.

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