October 14, 2021 3 min read

I played with fire and learnt my lesson, and you can too

A person’s gloved hand with a flame on the palm and fingertips
Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

I’ve written before about how important it is to support social or charitable causes as a small business and the many benefits of doing so here and here. But the question for many business owners considering supporting a social cause remains.

Why do you need to choose a cause carefully?

Well, it’s not as simple as you might think. There are a lot of things that could go wrong if you choose the wrong cause.

  1. Alienating your audience because they disagree with your choice.
  2. When you can’t contribute in any meaningful way, defeating the whole purpose.
  3. The cause turns out to be unreputable or untrustworthy, or worst-case scenario, fraudulent.

The time I chose the wrong charity

When I first started Paws for Giving, I decided to donate 50% of my profit to animal rescues in Australia. That was the whole point of the business. Support small and medium rescues who are primarily, if not 100%, volunteer and are almost always underfunded.

I partnered with 12 animal rescues around Australia. I researched them meticulously, obtaining their financial records from the publicly available Australian National Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) Charities Register and checking over how they spend their money. As well as plenty of research to find anything written about them online that might be negative or send off alarm bells.

What I didn’t know was that one of the charities I partnered with would, two years later, be charged with severe animal abuse offences.

This case isn’t finalised in court yet, but it’s extensive.

According to ABC News, a total of 30 counts of ill-treating an animal were laid against the organisation and its two directors.

Two directors of a South Australian animal rescue organisation have been charged with multiple animal cruelty offences, including depriving dogs of food and vet care.

-ABC News

How you can learn from my experience

Now put your business in the shoes of Paws for Giving for a moment— You are a business that hangs its hat on supporting incredible animal rescues who save animal lives.

Your marvellous audience is full of cheerleaders and advocates for your brand, and you get to know them and their pets’ stories personally. Especially where animal rescues were involved.

And then you have to tell them the news that you partnered with someone who betrayed the whole community they served. Oh, and they also allegedly committed the most significant grievances known to animal lovers — animal abuse.

What on earth do you do in that situation?

Here’s what I did

I was honest with the Paws for Giving customers.

I made a Facebook post about it. I explained that I wasn’t aware of these abuses; no one was. But that as soon as I became aware and confirmed they were valid through the RSPCA, Australia’s primary animal welfare regulation agency, I ended the partnership with this animal rescue.

I also explained that the case wasn’t finalised and that any inflammatory comments would be removed.

I received one negative comment on the post — suggesting I was ‘covering myself’ or similar.

I received more than one understanding response to the post, including someone coming forward to defend Paws for Giving on what was clearly not something anyone could have known about.

My lessons for anyone looking to partner with a social cause

  1. Choose your social cause wisely. Do everything you can to research them beforehand, so if things go wrong, you know you truly did your best.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up if things turn out sour.
  3. But always be honest. As tempting as it is to run and hide from the reality of these situations, all that your audience wants is authenticity. Give it to them.

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