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The Weekly Good: Groupon Isn’t Just About Selling, It’s About Doing

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[Note: This is a weekly series. If your company is doing something amazing to help a charitable cause or doing some good in your community, please reach out.]

When you think of Groupon, you immediately think of instant deals for restaurants and nail salons. That’s not all the company is about though, it’s about connecting people to businesses and helping you find interesting things to do in your area. Sure, it’s a business like any other company, but as we’ve come to learn, a lot of companies these days do non-profit work, mostly in the background. You know, when they’re not acquiring companies.

We’ve been able to surface some of these stories, and I had a chance to speak with Groupon’s Head of Social Innovation, Patty Huber Morrissey, about what the Chicago-based company is working on.

The program is called “Grassroots“, and here’s a quick video explaining it:

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What does Groupon do for the world around it?

Most people think of Groupon as a website, an email, or a mobile app to find great deals. And while some think that our business model is easily replicable, it’s incredibly hard to build the thousands of relationships and historic expertise required to succeed in this business.

Simply put, we connect organizations (merchants and charities) with consumers to build and support local economies around the world in 48 countries everyday.

We’ve seen your larger campaigns, what do you do on a daily basis?

Our national campaigns tend to garner more widespread exposure versus our smaller, hyperlocal campaigns – we’ve worked with DonorsChoose.org, Feeding America and World Wildlife Fund, to name a familiar few. What many people don’t realize is that we feature 10-15 local campaigns around the U.S. every single week. Groupon Grassroots, our philanthropic program, is a team that facilitates local, project-specific campaigns in communities around the country. The campaigns look very similar to regular Groupon deals, and are sent to local subscribers in the daily email of each relevant market. The difference with Grassroots campaigns is that the project is designed to have a tangible, local societal impact, the organization receives 100% of the donations raised (versus regular Groupon deals), and Groupon even absorbs the credit card fees.

While the exposure and raised funds are great, the real value of these campaigns is the skills and capacity-building we’re providing for these organizations. Our campaign organizers intentionally work with the “little leaguers” who are new to online engagement. While we could work with more established charities, they don’t necessarily need us as much; we can make a more significant impact by working with local changemakers, dedicated to their communities.

What do your employees do to get involved to make the world a better place?

WBP-Class-Photo-August-17-Serious-1-420x278The bulk of Groupon employees are young, passionate and dedicated to making a meaningful impact; we love that, and we’re building more opportunities to propel that enthusiasm with our Employee Volunteer Program. We’ve offered a variety of opportunities so far, such as playing soccer with local youth, assembling bikes from recycled parts and gardening at a local urban Chicago farm (among many others). Grown from The Point, the first group action, fundraising platform, we put a lot of muscle into being a company that provides a sense of purpose. We’re dedicated to leveraging our employees’ robust skill sets and connecting volunteer experiences with talent development and teambuilding objectives. The more mileage we can get out of our programs, the more resources we can put behind them.

What’s the #1 thing that Groupon is proudest about, for good, that’s never gotten “attention”

I’m most proud our commitment to the little guy. We provide a platform, tools and reach that a small business or organization couldn’t find elsewhere. On large scale, what we’re doing here is really powerful. Because of the hyperlocal nature of Groupon, many consumers don’t realize that Groupon is global. While that’s great because it feels personal, people don’t realize the power/influence we have to affect change globally. I just read a recent study by Civic Economics about the economic impact that locally-owned businesses have on their economies … We have the ability to shift consumer buying behavior on a global scale. Imagine how that would impact communities – helping consumers have a greater impact with each dollar they spend at a locally-owned business. We’re excited about that and many people don’t think about us in that way. My vision is for people to think of Groupon as a force for good, and as a champion for local business.

Are there plans to expand your programs? If so, how?

Aspire-CoffeeWorks-Employees-Making-Coffee1-200x300Definitely. We recently named the internal team ‘Social Innovation’ to reflect our evolution beyond one program (Groupon Grassroots). We’re proud of what we’ve built with Grassroots and how it honors our roots with The Point, but our goal is to execute much more than just local campaigns. We’ve already launched our Employee Volunteer Program and will be expanding these programs to our European offices in the near term.

What’s next – a social innovation lab. It will resemble an incubator for social intrapreneurs. Similar to Hub Ventures and Impact Engine, two accelerators for for-profit social entrepreneurs, we’re going to develop profitable solutions that promote societal and environmental change. There are so many enthusiastic, talented people at Groupon that we don’t want to limit the ideas to the seven of us on the Social Innovation Team. We want to source ideas from employees on the ground doing the work, talking to consumers and merchants everyday.

Name one charity that really gets you excited, one that’s testing new models

One … That’s hard. We bucket all mission-driven organizations together – regardless if they’re for-profit, non-profit, or just an individual with some gumption; we care about impact. I attended Impact Engine’s Community Demo Day earlier this week, and the presentations I heard there from the eight for-profit impact entrepreneurs were impressive. A standout from the event was Collaborative Group. Entrepreneur Kathleen Wright developed a model that connects big brands, like J.Crew and Reef, to a network of pre-vetted artisans to solve the challenge of sourcing sustainable products profitably. In an age where philanthropy and government programs are not meeting the demands of society, and where businesses need more sustainable practices, the social entrepreneur is innovating with blended for-profit and for-purpose models to meet the demand on both sides.

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It’s nice to see this component becoming a true part of the culture of many companies, as we’ve learned from Facebook, Google, Twitter and lately, Square:

I’m sure that employees that get to participate in the programs feel better about the work that they’re doing too, as it’s usual for people to spend more time at work than they do with their families. Finding time to raise money for charities or volunteer at a local soup kitchen falls off of the to-do list as quickly as the hours roll off of the daily clock.

Want to see all of Groupon’s active campaigns and results? Check them out here.

In case you’ve missed our previous Weekly Good pieces, have a look here, here, here, here, here, here and here.