2011

Cause Coffee

The attractiveness of cause coffees as a means of expressing a businesses commitment to good citizenship is clear but the labyrinth of potential causes and certifications is so difficult to navigate, that many choose to do nothing at all.

The first step toward understanding the array of avenues a business can travel in order to establish a cause coffee must first start with a basic understanding of what is a cause coffee. This universe can be divided into four distinct groups – certification organizations, large-footprint non-profits, small-footprint non-profits, and local interest non-profits.

Third Party Certification Organizations
In the coffee industry, most of us are familiar with these groups, they are…

Fair Trade USA (previously known as TransFair USA) – this organization certifies coffee-processing cooperatives globally that are democratically organized and commit to provide fair compensation to their members for the coffees they grow. The recent surge of pricing for commodity coffees has at times exceeded the contractual price Fair Trade will pay, but during times when the price of coffee is low, Fair Trade has been a key player in ensuring the continued viability of small cooperatives.

The Rainforest Alliance – RFA is known for its focus on the preservation of the natural biosphere through sustainable agricultural practices and forestry practices. The RFA certifies individual farms that have instituted a wide array of cultural and horticultural practices that lead toward reduction of a farm’s negative impact on the land while ensuring sustainable economic value to the growers. Recently, RFA certification has broadened to include labor housing and compensation, best-practices use, storage, and application of chemicals, and watershed management.

USDA Certified Organic – this broad-reaching certification is driven by a series of laws and regulations directing the USDA to oversee and enforce the authenticity of foods in, or entering, the US that declare themselves as “Organic.” In order to accomplish this mission, the USDA regularly inspects farms and facilities that profess to maintain sufficient standards to be called “Organic.” Generally, this means that the product is grown and processed in such a way that it cannot become contaminated with artificial products or chemicals. If a farm can be certified as organic, it is able to present the USDA Certified Organic seal on it’s packaging and marketing materials.

Utz Kapeh – this organization, founded in Europe was initially formed to ensure a reliable supply of high quality coffee for the supermarket industry but has since evolved to a broader mission of sustainability, societal, and environmental responsibility.

Additionally, there is The Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certification, 4-C certification, and others.

Large Footprint Non-Profits
This is a class of non-profit organizations that advance a broad agenda but do not require certification and periodic verification. Examples of these types of groups include The Women in Coffee Alliance, The Red Cross International, Rotary International, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Conservation International, UNICEF, and others. Support of these causes addresses issues that are broad and non-specific such as global disease, education, disaster relief, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and other wide ranging topics. Support for these groups, typically monetary, is used to address a wide range of activities.

Small Footprint Non-Profits
Although not necessarily small in activity, these groups represent a tightly focused agenda aimed at specific issues often in specific places. Examples of this type of non-profit are Café Feminino which addresses specific women issues and their societal impact on local community culture; Cup for Education which provides financial and bricks and mortar support to communities in Central America that are under-served educationally; Grounds For Health that focuses on eradication of Cervical Cancer in developing countries; Coffee Kids focuses on families and their environmental and societal requirements; Coffeelands Trust that addresses the removal of landmine fields; and many others. Association with these groups can provide fulfilling and hands-on experiences far beyond donations.

Local Interest Non-Profits
These are causes that have local significance to your community. They include religious organizations, baseball leagues, Special Olympics, support of police and fire departments, legalizing marijuana, the Boy Scouts, the local Red Cross disaster relief fund, and many others to mention adequately. Support of these organizations is often extremely rewarding but care must be taken to ensure that the cause is widely acceptable to your customers. Okay, so legalizing marijuana may not be a good example. If your company is focused on a specific town or geographic area, this type of cause coffee can bring amazing results.

In choosing a cause to support through the sale of coffee and other products, your group needs to come to agreement on some specific issues.

  • What are your reasons for wanting to field a cause coffee? This will require some honest evaluation. Truthfully, if your motive is to sell more coffee, that is okay. If it were not for that capitalistic motive, most non-profits would run dry quickly.
  • Can your entire organization get on board with the cause that you want to support? If not, then enthusiasm for the initiative will not be sustainable.
  • How much of your gross profit are you prepared to sacrifice? Supporting a good cause is great but if you go bankrupt as a result then nobody wins. Consider carefully what you can do and make a business decision based on the numbers.
  • Check first to make certain that your customers think it is a great idea. It does not make a lot of sense to go through all the printing and marketing hoops only to find out that nobody cares.
  • If the cause you choose requires staff and resources other than money, can you support the needs? If you sponsor a little league team, you may also have to dig up a couple of dedicated coaches and on some rainy early spring evening, that may very well be YOU.

Once you have passed through the mechanical process of setting up a cause coffee, the experience can be very rewarding and positive to your company, both emotionally and financially. By giving honest evaluation to what you want to achieve in life and how you can help and where you can help, presenting a cause coffee can be a deeply fulfilling experience.

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