Better World Books on How to Power Literacy, Cut Waste + Turn a Profit
By Alison Klein | February 13, 2015
Some companies are easy to love – whether it’s their mission, their ingenuity or their products, they pretty much “have us at hello.” In observance of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to tell you about RoundPeg’s very first Company Crush: fellow B Corp Better World Books!
I put on a brave face and confessed our love to Better World Books’ Content and Community Specialist, Tommy Stubblefield. Tommy was nice enough tell me a little more about the company everyone at RoundPeg so admires.
What makes Better World Books so dreamy?
The best thing about Better World Books (BWB) is that they make the world better in so many ways. A quick jaunt around their website reveals that they:
- Donate a book for each book purchased on BetterWorldBooks.com
- Donate a percentage of every sale to fund literacy and libraries
- Fund and administer grants to support literacy, libraries and education
- Prevent books from filling up landfills (over 150,000,000 reused or
recycled to date!)
- Offer carbon-neutral shipping options
Why do they give back in so many ways? To answer that, Tommy explains, you have to look at BWB’s roots. “We’ve worked with the community from the start – our founders stored their first books at the Robinson Community Learning Center and shared a portion of what they earned with them. This gave birth to our desire to be a B Corporation. And now, we have a Literacy Council and an Environmental Council within BWB that govern the activities surrounding initiatives in each area.”
The Literacy and Environmental Councils also constantly look for new ways Better World Books can help increase literacy locally and globally and reduce negative environmental impacts through book reuse. Can you say #Swoon??
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How do they stay competitive while doing so much good?
“Doing good is a large part of our value proposition,” Tommy explains, “But for us to do that well, we have to offer an exceptional buying experience at an affordable price.” And indeed, when I looked up a couple of titles on Amazon, BWB offered some of the lowest prices.
“But, beyond that, people know that when they purchase that book from us, they’re doing something. We even have a tracker on the site so that when customers log in, they can see how many books have been donated because of them and their decision to shop with us.”
I asked Tommy how many of those involved with BWB (customers, partners, libraries, etc.) are in it for the mission and how many of them are involved for other reasons.
“It’s a mix,” he told me. “Libraries, for example, want someone reliable who supports literacy and education to take care of the books they want to remove from circulation. We can do that, and we share those values, so they want to work with us. Some customers buy from us because we have great prices and free shipping. In terms of employees, some of the people who work here came here because of the mission. Some, like me, started working here and then fell in love with our mission.”
To date, the company has donated nearly 15.5 million books, reused or recycled 150 million books and raised over 19 million dollars for literacy and libraries.
What’s their advice for other organizations in the social good space?
Tommy advises communicators and marketers to be very clear about what kind of organization they represent. “We are a for-profit social enterprise. But when we add in phrases like ‘we donate a book for every one sold’ or ‘funds raised support literacy and education’, the media sometimes assumes we are representing ourselves as a charity. We’re seeing a lot of expose-type journalism ‘revealing’ the fact that we aren’t a non-profit. People see that and think ‘Oh no! You aren’t a charity?!’ but the truth is that their donation will help increase literacy and decrease waste even if BWB isn’t a charity.”
It isn’t as though BWB ever hid the fact that it was a for-profit entity but as new kinds of organizations spring up in the social good space, we’re all still learning what different categories mean. This means that communicators must be painfully clear about what kind of organization they represent.
Tommy also emphasizes the importance of writing things with a personal touch. As an example, he points me toward one hugely successful communication from BWB – the shipping confirmation they send. Curious about how a shipping confirmation can be successful, I asked Tommy to elaborate.
“We wrote it from the point of view of the books,” he explains. “They say things like ‘We’re so glad to be on our way’ and ‘Is it cold there? Will we need dust jackets?’” This message acknowledges the emotional relationship readers have with their books to ignite anticipation.
According to Tommy, it “shows people that we took the time to add a personal touch for them. We’re thinking of them, too. It makes a difference.” Some customers even post a copy of the email on social media because they’re so thrilled with it (which, to my thinking, is not too shabby for a shipping confirmation email).
After my call with Tommy I felt even more in love with BWB. What do you think – are you as impressed as I am? Maybe you yourself are doing something to increase literacy, reduce waste, and support libraries. Maybe you want to publicly declare your love for YOUR company crush! Tell me about it in the comments below. Want to learn more about Better World Books? Check out their website – betterworldbooks.com
The Company Crush series spotlights companies using inventive business models to create positive change in the world. By sharing their stories, we hope to inspire more people to use business as a force for good.