For-profit consultancy Cannabis Doing Good works with companies seeking to step-up their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. This month, co-founders Courtney Mathis and Kelly Perez launched the Cannabis Impact Fund, a non-profit to attract charitable contributions from the industry. For the first year, it will focus on groups promoting racial justice.
The Fund wants cannabis companies to contribute 1% of their revenue or shares. WeedWeek has committed to the program. We’ll also publish a list of our fellow participants.
In this week’s Power Players interview, Perez and Mathis discuss how to get involved with CSR, why they started the Fund and the business case for charity.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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The most tangible way to do something real
WeedWeek: Tell us about Cannabis Doing Good.
Kelly Perez: We are hoping to bring all the folks that are doing great things in cannabis together around race and justice, environmental sustainability and community engagement. We started five years ago with our agency, Kind Colorado doing social responsibility specifically around community. The idea is to create an easier place, a platform for folks that want to be purpose driven.
WW: What kinds of things do you do?
Courtney Mathis: Cannabis Doing Good is our business entity, which was founded to connect cannabis businesses to community. It showcases companies doing good, and creates a standard for social responsibility in the sector.
Cannabis Doing Good does events and campaigns. We have an awards program that we’re really proud of. And we are also creating a membership program to create a robust network of businesses and individuals who are and aspire to be, purpose driven.
One of the lovely byproducts of doing this work is that many folks have come to trust us to know what community organizations are doing good work, what impact is needed.
We felt like the most tangible way to turn that into something real was to start our own non-profit. So Cannabis Doing Good is launching the Cannabis Impact Fund. For the next 12 months, we will be fundraising exclusively for racial justice organizations including Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, Hood Incubator, The Bail Project, Minorities for Medical Marijuana and the Minority Cannabis Business Association.
We are asking companies to pledge 1% of their sales, much like 1% for the Planet. Individuals can pledge 1%. Businesses can pledge 1%. We’ll also accept individual donations. But the goal is really to get the entire cannabis community to show up in a big way for racial justice, and build the resources of those organizations who have been on the ground for years.
We want a really authentic narrative that the industry is doing something meaningful. One of our goals is to also create funding for anti-bias training and D&I work specific to the cannabis industry.
“The nexus between community and cannabis”
WW: Have you received many commitments?
CM: We have. The nonprofit is not yet even launched, but we have been talking to companies, and we do have companies who have come forward and said, “I want to pledge 5% of my sales. I want to pledge 1% of my shares. I want to pledge 1% of my revenue.”
We’ve had incredible enthusiasm. We needed to have everything completely, as best as we can, buttoned up to accept the volume of engagement that we think we’re going to have at launch.
KP: We’ve had this in mind for a couple of years. People come to us and say, “I want to pledge for you.” And we say, “We’re not a nonprofit, that’s not what we do.” We had to create it because it was demanded of us, because we are that nexus between community and cannabis, and are able to see ways for us to help.
The fund creates easier ways for folks to do the right thing. We stand on the shoulders of folks, and we feel so honored to take it to the next level. Our opportunity is to make change right now, based on an industry that came off the backs of Black and brown and sick people.
The business case for CSR
WW: The way to make this easy is to convince companies that doing this is going to help them make more money.
CM: Yeah, exactly.
WW: What’s the main evidence you can point to that that will happen?
KP: That’s where we started. We had to figure out how to make a business case for the work.
We’ve got a ton of purpose-driven data in the space: What millennials like to spend their money on, what women like to spend money on, who is an employer of choice and why. And we’re speaking to some data organizations in cannabis to get even more [granular CSR] data.
It’s not that easy to directly link things like good will, loyal employees and being a community asset, to sales. But those things all count.
CM: Think about [California brand] Bloom Farms, which built up their entire business operations around CSR. What we’ve heard from the CEO and founders is that their ongoing community engagement is powerful. Their customers, are going to continue to return and expand. They have reduced employee turnover. They’ve been able to share some pretty powerful statistics, and they are renowned in the space for what they do.
You see a lot of companies similar to them. Here’s the trick about CSR. It’s a super power as long as it’s used correctly. So if a company is doing CSR and they’re doing a great job of communicating it to their customers, they’re going to see higher customer engagement and brand loyalty.
If most of their CSR is focused on internal employee culture and employee engagement, then they’re going to see enhanced business culture and reduced employee turnover.
What we hope is that companies are doing both of those things. They’re screaming it from the rooftops externally, and that they’re cultivating this culture of community engagement, health, well-paid staff and a nurturing culture of feedback internally.
If they’re doing all the things, they’re reaping all the benefits. But not all companies are doing all these things. The metrics and data are going to depend on where that company is deploying their CSR.
WW: If a company is not involved in CSR or social justice, how should they think about starting?
KP: It does require an entry point, which we try to create for people. These are really tough things to navigate. If you look at what companies are doing around Black lives movement right now, a lot of them are black squaring because they don’t know how to enter.
We’ve got plenty of clients who we couldn’t figure out what they cared about when we first started working together. It took us a minute, but they have very successful. Some have been awarded or nominated for successful CSR programs because it has moved who their company is.
But they didn’t come in saying, ‘We know what we want to do.’ We figure out how they can engage. We want it to be honest and authentic. We don’t want it to be something that doesn’t matter to them, because that would be silly and short-lived.
CM: The whole goal of the Cannabis Impact Fund is to be the entry point. Talking about racial justice specifically, there are folks who are involved because they want to undo racism in America. There are folks that are doing it because they feel like they have to optically. And there are folks that are doing it because their staff are saying, you’re not doing enough, right?
The reasons are varied. But we hope Cannabis Doing Good and our non-profit can be the boarding station for these conversations. And if you can get a company to commit 1% of their shares or their revenue or their sales to an organization that’s going to be funding racial justice, they then get to put that in their insignia on their signature line, on their product, on their website.
It is going to spark conversation. What happens is they become part of a network where they have access to resources that can continue to educate them. We’ll be capturing tons of data around the companies who have showed up to make the pledge, and what that looks like for them.
Once they’re in our network, we’re going to be able to slowly provide them with resources and education and networks and round tables and webinars and Q&A’s. And for those that really want to engage, the sky will be the limit.
For those that just need an entry point today, we are certainly going to give them that. There is an accountability list going around [put together by Cannaclusive]. It’s a list of 250 companies who are writing out the things that they’re doing [to confront racism.]
You would be probably not be surprised to see the number of companies that are doing so little. [Many] put in the notes that they posted the black square on their social media, that they’ve directed folks to Black Lives Matter, that they’re talking about anti-racism on social. But the number of them giving to organizations or doing anything to address unrest or discomfort or the safety of their staff and community is nonexistent.
What that tells me is that there are 250 businesses today that are interested, that are curious, that want to be held accountable. They just don’t know how. There needs to be a unifying place for cannabis companies to not only do something meaningful, but get resources to help push them along in their journey. I think the Cannabis Impact Fund is going to do that.