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How to Lead With Purpose: 6 Ways to Get Started in 2021

By December 14, 2020

The idea of leveraging business as a force for good is not new. In 2006, three friends left careers in business and private equity and created the B Corp movement, a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. By the end of 2007, 82 companies had obtained their B Corp certification. In April 2010, Maryland became the first U.S. state to pass benefit corporation legislation. A couple years later, in 2015, a few organizations, including Salesforce, came together to create Pledge 1%, the global movement to inspire, educate, and empower every company to be a force for good. These companies knew first-hand that pledging a small portion of their future success today could have an enormous impact tomorrow.

However, something shifted in 2020. Leaders that were not fully convinced about leveraging their business as a platform for good, or those who had postponed doing so, suddenly were asked: “How does your organization contribute to making the world a better place?” While many CEOs and executives already aspired to give back, few had the tools, teams, and knowledge to put their values into action. In 2020, while faced with a worldwide pandemic, major economic downturn, and a racial justice crisis, companies suddenly felt the sense of urgency to reconsider where purpose fit as part of their overall strategy. 

This post is designed for entrepreneurs, business leaders, and executives who need a simple roadmap to get started on the journey. It consolidates tips, stories, and best practices from companies that are already doing well by doing good, as well as insights from the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report, Corporate Purpose in an Age of Crises, that gathered feedback from 168 executives who have incorporated purpose into their strategies. 

1. Assess Your Business Superpowers

Every company is uniquely positioned to serve its customers and the communities in which it operates. One simple way to get started on the purpose-driven business path is to consider and answer the following question: “What social, human, and environmental challenges are my company uniquely positioned to answer thanks to my products, services, employees’ expertise, and infrastructure?” 

This is how Kellogg Company, the multinational food manufacturing giant, designed and rolled out their Better Days program, a global purpose platform that addresses wellbeing, food security, and climate. Because Kellogg is uniquely positioned to feed people and has been committed to giving back for decades, the company committed to helping end hunger by supporting three billion people by the end of 2030. 

2. Do More for Your Employees

Despite high unemployment rates, the war for talent continues. Many companies struggle to find the skills and leadership needed to grow their business. Being a purpose-driven organization can make you more attractive to candidates, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, who value purpose as much as paycheck — if not more. The way you treat your employees says a lot about how much you pay attention to stakeholders, not just shareholders.

For instance, does your company share ownership with employees? Do you pay a living wage to all your employees? What does your maternity and paternity leave policy look like? How do you support workers who face financial emergency needs? How much do you invest in professional development and training? What do your benefits look like? 

An organization that’s committed to doing good will oftentimes start with its own employees. That’s why it’s important to take an honest look at how you treat yours, and run internal (anonymous) employee surveys on a regular basis to know where you stand on how your employees truly feel. 

Four people wearing masks looking at a computer
Seven out of ten students about to enter the workforce say a job where they can
“make an impact” is important for their happiness (Net Impact via Conscious Company)

 3. Create Diverse and Inclusive Cultures and Teams

A diverse workforce can help drive economic growth, capture greater shares of the consumer market, foster creativity and innovation, as well as build competitiveness, adaptability, and resilience. Diversity increases the ability to serve all kinds of stakeholders and bring in diverse perspectives. For companies willing to do the work, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not just a buzzword or a trend: it is both the right and smart thing to do. 

However, diversity without inclusion does not work. While it’s tempting to bundle the two and treat them as synonymous, representation without inclusion could actually undermine your organization. So, what can you do to create a more diverse and inclusive company? We recommend starting with securing unequivocal executive buy-in. This is important because you don’t want your employees to doubt your leaders’ words or receive mixed messages about where the company stands, particularly during critical times such as the racial justice protests and social unrest in the United States this year. 

Orv Kimbrough, Chairman and CEO of Midwest BankCentre, believes that economic mobility is one of the best ways to close social, health, and wealth gaps. In fact, he sees it as absolutely necessary to create shared prosperity among Black Americans. To learn more about Orv Kimbrough’s work to make lasting changes and reduce the wealth gap of marginalized communities, tune-in to the webcast replay, Raise the Bar in D&I to Create Shared Pathways to Prosperity

Once your organization is in great shape with diversity and inclusion within your employee base, you can start looking at your company’s impact via philanthropy, policies, and purchasing. For more ideas, review Salesforce’s Racial Equality page.


Woman picking up trash
An employee volunteers at the local zoo with her colleagues.

 4. Consider Your Environmental Impact

How do you monitor, record, and reduce your footprint on the Earth? How do you measure the lifecycle of your product? Do your employees feel encouraged to use virtual meeting technology and reduce travel waste? 2020 has proved to us that we can operate business in a much greener fashion. From online conferences to critical discussions conducted over virtual meetings, business leaders, sales people, and even consumer good companies have shifted to more digital avenues. What do we choose to remember from this unique set of circumstances to make sustainability a daily habit, and not a temporary byproduct of the worldwide pandemic? 

5. Roll Out Giving and Volunteering Programs for Your Employees

Even prior to 2020, many employees already wanted to work for companies that would support giving back, whether in the form of monetary donations or volunteering. After 2020, citizens expect even more from corporations: they look at them to take stands and use their “business superpowers” to do good. When employees feel the support of their company to give back, they develop a sense of pride and are more engaged and productive. 

Ebony Beckwith, Executive Vice President and Chief Philanthropy Officer at, recently hosted a panel with business leaders from Deloitte Services LP, Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville, Wolfson Children’s Hospital, and Maritz to discuss the power of corporate philanthropy. For more ideas on how to design, implement, and optimize employee giving and volunteering programs, download The Complete Guide to Employee Giving & Volunteering and The Corporate Social Responsibility Guide for Impact in Times of Crisis

Two people wearing masks in an office
Corporate Social Responsibility team members collaborate on rolling out giving and volunteering programs.

6. Measure Progress, Keep Yourself Accountable

In business, anything that matters gets measured and reported on. Companies that are truly committed to doing good need to put in place clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and measure how they are doing from an employee, DEI (diversity, eEquity and inclusion), community, environment, governance, and customer standpoints. For these metrics to be effective, they must be incorporated into board reviews — and executives should be as upset about not meeting their DEI goals as not making their sales quota. Another great way to measure progress is to align with one or several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Once you have the vision, commitment, and metrics in place, it is a good time to explore solutions and platforms that can make your life easier. In small companies, most Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs are run by Human Resources. Larger organizations sometimes create a full-fledged CSR department. Whether you have a dedicated department or simply a handful of passionate employees who want to help, platforms such as Philanthropy Cloud will allow your teams to set up, run, promote, and measure corporate philanthropic campaigns easily and effectively. 

For more inspiration on how to put purpose at the core of your strategy and turn your company into a force for good, join the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services webinar on January 28, 2021.  

This blog post is the second of a series on corporate purpose. Explore the other entries:

About the Author

Cecile Poyet

Cécile Poyet is dedicated to product marketing for Philanthropy Cloud. Prior to joining, she built and led the co-marketing machine for top ISV partners and resellers at She has 13 years of experience marketing innovative technology for large and small IT companies, including IBM and Hortonworks.