We believe philanthropy is a two-way street–and that giving should be a positive experience for the person who is doing the good, not just the people who ultimately receive the benefit. We founded our research firm, Mulberry South, in 2012 because we observed that philanthropy, unfortunately, is not always as positive an experience for the givers as it could and should be, especially given that it is a $335-plus billion industry in America. So, we spent two years researching that exact issue–the experience of philanthropy from the point of view of the person doing the good. 

Here are three examples of the types of research projects we completed:

1. Marketing research and message development for financial services and related companies that serve high net worth families and want to grow their businesses in that market through philanthropic services and tools.

For example, in April 2014 we completed and published a study for Crown Philanthropic Solutions, based in New Jersey, to determine the motivations of the families who have invested nearly $50 billion (and growing) into donor advised funds.

2. Marketing research and social impact message development for consumer products companies that want to better engage female consumers–which is an audience that gravitates toward “doing good.”

For example, in May 2014 we completed a study of mothers, which indicated that 91% of this demographic wants to purchase products that help them teach their children about doing good. We released the results of this study on KCTV5′s Better KC.

3. Tools to help companies engage and attract top talent and build culture through philanthropy, in an easy, check-the-box format, without disrupting or displacing what the company is already doing with its corporate social responsibility or corporate giving program.

For example, in July 2014 we worked with Baker University to launch an Executive Impact Series using a curriculum we developed to teach executives in companies what they need to know about the impact of “doing good” on the bottom line.

Where we began

Mulberry South was launched in 2012 as a research firm, serving and interviewing companies and institutions that could benefit from improving the user experience with doing good, regardless of the causes supported. Mulberry South continues to pursue the important work relating to “doing good,” which has emerged as a catalyst to build emotional loyalty with employees, customers, and donors. This is especially true for high net worth individuals and families, female consumers, and talented professionals; therefore, we focused our initial research efforts on those key segments.

Our research methods are both academic and empirical. We rigorously stay on top of trends in the marketplace. We figure out what works with real people, one by one. We are as interested in “little data” as we are in big data because we believe solutions lie at the intersection of the two. We track behavior through media platforms we create solely for the purpose of observing donor behavior. We test ideas. We pilot initiatives. We seek new approaches and alternative strategies for improving the way doing good is experienced by the people doing it, whether those people are employees in companies, families in their homes, or decision-makers in foundations and donor advised funds.

Philanthropy is an important part of American culture. Our goal at Mulberry South is to help our clients inspire more people, companies, and institutions to realize their own visions of doing good through the best possible personal experience with our clients’ missions, products and services. This, we believe, will in turn increase the effectiveness of philanthropy overall.

We invested our research efforts on critical emerging trends in philanthropy and social responsibility. Over the course of two years of intense study, our research pursuits and pilot programs yielded discoveries indicating that marketing messages, employee engagement tools, and donor education programs that are grounded in social impact values carry the potential for major impact on three key markets: Consumers--especially females, philanthropic families, and employees in companies.

Here's a summary of what we found.

Consumers--especially women

We discovered that the social consciousness of Americans is on an upswing that is bigger than most people realize. Philanthropy--in terms of giving money to charitable organizations registered with the IRS--has held steady at 2% of Gross Domestic Product for more than 40 years. But Americans today are defining “philanthropy” more broadly--including giving to charities, and also volunteering for causes, serving on boards, celebrating at community events, recycling and respecting a sustainable environment, marketing their favorite nonprofits, donating cans and clothing to people in need, purchasing brands that support a cause--even sharing with family and friends and caring about their own health and wellness. Philanthropy covers far more territory than a single way to do good--especially in the hearts and minds of women who are raising values-conscious children. We believe this means brands today have an untapped opportunity to connect emotionally with female consumers in ways that accelerate engagement and loyalty.

Philanthropic families--especially high net worth donors

We discovered that wealthy Americans want more satisfaction from their experiences with giving. This is true of a donor's experience directly with a charity. But it is perhaps even more important for financial services companies who want to build emotional loyalty with their clients and the next generation through legacy planning and charitable giving tools. We believe high net worth families want their financial institutions and advisors to recognize the good they are already doing, show them ways they can craft financial and estate plans to carry out their giving priorities, and offer services, technology, and tools that continue to inspire and motivate them and their families to make philanthropy a part of their lives.


Talented professionals want “doing good” to be part of the workplace environment--but the executives they work for aren’t quite sure how to set up a corporate giving system that meets employee expectations and also supports business goals. And the market pressures on C-level executives to do something about it are mounting--regulatory influences, sustainability trends, consumer preferences, corporate governance standards, philanthropic solicitations, and expectations of employees and recruits are just six of many economic factors driving "doing good" to a higher-level corporate priority. We believe employers need a simple, real-time solution to celebrate philanthropy and align activities with corporate priorities. For related content, please read an editorial on doing well by doing good, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal's online publication, MarketWatch.

So what does all of this mean? It means that our research team believes we can help our clients find ways to make philanthropy a more positive experience for the people doing it. In fact, we believe a focus on the giver’s experience with philanthropy is an imperative, not only to ensure that philanthropy remains strong as a part of American culture, but also so that consumer products companies, financial services firms, and employers of all sizes can continue to support a growing bottom line.

We believe “doing good” should be a positive, celebrated experience for the people doing it. If you believe that, too, we look forward to working together.

Research highlights

Summer 2014

Philanthropy in the workplace: A formula for talent engagement?

Philanthropy, according to the classic dictionary definition, is “‘a love of humanity’ in the sense of caring, nourishing, developing and enhancing ‘what it is to be human’ on both the benefactors’ and beneficiaries’ parts.”

Americans are very familiar with that idea, especially considering that nearly 90% of Americans households give to charity each year. But does philanthropy–"doing good"–matter in business?

Yes it does.

Plenty of research demonstrates how “doing good” enhances brand engagement and supports talent recruitment and retention. This is especially the case when "doing good" is defined broadly, in terms of the emerging market realities of philanthropy, sustainability, governance, regulatory influences, talent development, and consumer-focused cause marketing. These elements are key components to the notion referred to as "corporate social responsibility," which is fast becoming a tool to build–and even restore–the nobility of business.

But does "a love of humanity," combined with the ideals of corporate social responsibility, actually impact a company's bottom line? That's the subject of one of the most compelling studies that informs the values behind corporate social responsibility and its connection to business profits. Jim Stengel, who spent 25 years in management--and seven of those as Global Marketing Officer at Proctor & Gamble--revealed in his research that "companies that center their business on the ideal of improving lives have a growth triple that of competitors in their categories."

Specifically, Stengel's research indicated that an investment in the “Stengel 50,” the top 50 businesses in the growth study, would have been 400% more profitable than an investment in the S&P 500, according to Stengel's book, Grow.

So, then, in light of the research-based validation of the positive benefits of "doing good" in corporate settings, how will tomorrow's executives, entrepreneurs and professionals be prepared and inspired to maximize this aspect of leadership, especially in an environment where rapidly changing demographics require local action with global impact?

That's an important question, and it is one that is directly impacting perspectives and tools related to talent development. In other words, what are those tools and activities that will foster a workplace environment that celebrates "success by doing good?"

That is exactly what we intended to discover in our intensive, two-year research initiative, which resulted in our focus on helping clients unlock the power of philanthropy to increase positive brand engagement. Our work for clients includes market research, custom publishing, and software-based solutions.

In the workplace, we suspect a big part of the solution lines in an online tool that helps a company celebrate its employees for individual achievements in the ways they are already doing good. With that kind of employer validation, employees will be more likely to connect to each other through various "doing good" activities. Meaningful, genuine, and authentic connections are what matter in the workplace, because that's what motivates and inspires people to work together toward common goals, whether those goals are company goals, personal goals, or a combination of each.

Do good. Celebrate, your way. And benefit all. That's starting to sound pretty good!

Women, children and families: The future of effective cause marketing?

What is “authentic social impact engagement”? And what does it mean for traditional cause marketing? We think that is a very good question, especially as it relates to female consumers.

Work completed at Baker University during 2012 - 2014 signaled that the drivers of consumer action in the social impact arena are fundamentally different from the drivers of consumer action in a purely commercial setting. A deliberate process of affirmation, education, inspiration, and motivation is the key to generating action-oriented engagement that leads to brand loyalty and repeat buying.

For four decades, cause marketing has been a firmly-rooted method for businesses to improve public relations, increase customer engagement, and create additional marketing opportunities. But is cause marketing alone the most effective method for a business to drive a return on investment from “doing good”? Emerging research suggests that brands can dramatically enhance the results of cause marketing strategies through an “authentic social impact engagement” process.

An intensive consumer research study of mothers and children is beginning to isolate pivotal data points and key consumer perspectives related to the power of social impact messaging. This research will begin to inform marketing teams at consumer products companies who intend to deploy social impact-based strategies to drive a greater emotional connection between the female consumer and the brand.

In the study, mothers of one or more children under the age of 18 were asked to complete a “10 Ways to Do Good” arts and crafts exercise with their children. The project was designed to celebrate the good that the families were already doing–regardless of the causes supported. Following the exercise, mothers were asked to complete a brief online tutorial about the 10 Ways to Do Good.

Here’s the bottom line. (Well, three bottom lines.)

  • When asked at the conclusion of the research study: “If there were products on the market today that helped you engage with your family in one or more of the 10 Ways to Do Good, how likely would you be to purchase those products?" 85% answered YES, they would be likely to purchase those products.
  • When asked at the conclusion of the research study: “How likely are you to use part or all of the material in the survey to help teach your children or grandchildren, 18 years of age or younger, about the 10 Ways to Do Good?” 100% answered YES.
  • When asked at the conclusion of the research study: “Do you feel like you have a better mental picture of the day-to-day activities that are part of your overall ‘social impact’–how you are making a positive difference in the lives of other people?” 91% answered YES.

Wow. With numbers like that, it only made sense that the research team had to go deeper, through 60-minute individual interviews with participants. And the results were equally powerful.

  • “I want a company to acknowledge my current situation as it relates to social impact.”
  • “I want a company to understand my need to educate my children about doing good.”
  • “I want a company to inspire me to involve my children in doing good.”
  • “I want a company to motivate me by making it easy for me to involve my children in doing good.“

 How’s that for the power of consumer engagement through social impact messaging? We’re sold.

Forecasting a summer focus: Philanthropy education--for learners of all ages

When families embark on a journey to make philanthropy a part of their lives across generations, it often starts with simple concepts: Having fun as a family, being authentic and open about values, donating canned goods or clothing to families in need, recycling cardboard and aluminum cans, celebrating every birthday and holiday with a big cake and a gift to charity, buying wrapping paper from the school fundraiser, contributing to a handful of favorite charities--even eating healthy food and appreciating every peaceful moment. In any household, “doing good” is a powerful way to create a sense of belonging--in the family, the community, and the world.

That’s why we’re tracking closely the emerging trends for ways to make giving back an easy, fun and rewarding part of everyday life. We’re testing ideas, gathering data, and working with a handful of leaders in the field who share our vision for celebrating good. Our inspiration for this line of research is heavily influenced by a pilot project conducted in 2011 at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation--A Case Study in Teaching Charitable Values.

Since then, our research team has continued to experiment with strategies and techniques to isolate the best of the best ingredients for igniting the spirit of generosity in children. To that end, we are advancing a nationwide research initiative with community foundations to further refine the magic formula for engaging families in “doing good’ and community impact.

Spring 2014

National Focus: Donor Advised Funds and the Unprecedented Growth of Donor-Focused Philanthropy

We are in the midst of conducting the 2014 Donor Experience Study, an independent research initiative sponsored by Crown Philanthropic Solutions, providers of the DonorFirst technology, and Embolden, a digital communications group. The first part of the study is a review of existing literature. The overall research initiative is designed to help philanthropy learn more about the characteristics of a positive online donor experience and the return on investment it can bring to a philanthropic institution’s mission. The work is part of an ongoing commitment to provide research and resources to community foundations, donor advised fund providers, and other donor-focused philanthropic institutions to help improve the donor’s experience with philanthropy.

Donor advised funds are gaining popularity as the charitable giving vehicle of choice. In fact, total asset levels in donor advised funds are approaching $50 billion, after double-digit annual increases in recent years. We are especially interested in material related to the psychology of donor-focused philanthropy. Indeed, research to uncover the key factors that influence a positive donor experience, regardless of the specific nonprofit or cause a donor supports, is critical work to ensure that philanthropy in America--2% of GDP--stays strong to support the basic infrastructure of people helping people.  

Regional Focus: Emerging Thought Leadership

We're watching closely the work at Baker University, where, for the last 18 months, the faculty and administrative leadership have studied compelling market trends in philanthropy, listened to the expectations of the region’s employers, and then connected these elements to the needs of undergraduate and graduate students. The result is that Baker is launching the Institute for Leadership & Positive Change. The Institute’s curriculum and programs reflect real-world dynamics and deploy industry realities as economic catalysts to empower students and future leaders to build–and even restore–the nobility of business. The Institute is designed to promote success by doing good and to offer a comprehensive approach to leadership development based in the disciplines of "doing good": philanthropy, sustainability, governance, regulatory influences, talent development, and consumer-focused cause marketing.

Winter 2014

Trend Watch: Six Emerging Market Realities

Philanthropy. Philanthropy represents 2% of GDP. 88% of households give to charity, and the average annual household contribution is $2,213. Giving USA Foundation, 2013

Sustainability. Over the next decade, the number of food insecure people worldwide is projected to increase by 37 million. USDA

Cause Marketing. 91% of global consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, given comparable price and quality. 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study

Regulatory Influences. More than 75% of the top 100 companies in the United States report on their corporate responsibility performance. Global Reporting Initiative

Talent Demands. 88% of Millenials want to work for a company that cares about how the company impacts and contributes to society. USA Today, 2012

Governance. In 1968, 70 percent of Americans answered “yes” when asked “Does business act responsibly?” By 2008, that percentage had dropped to 20 percent. Yankelovich and CNN/USA Today Gallup Poll

Fall 2013

The increasing popularity of online giving platforms is a trend we're watching closely. The big question for philanthropic institutions--or any organization that strives to create a good experience for a person giving money to a cause--is how to capture the potential of the "retail philanthropist" and encourage these donors to get more involved. Especially when there are so many choices for "doing good." Two helpful resources here are the perspectives offered by the Markets for Good initiative, as well as a white paper, Four Key Elements of Donor Experience Management: Inspiring Loyalty Through Online Engagementmade available through Crown Philanthropic Solutions.

We've also been tracking closely the breakthrough work going on at Baker University, in Baldwin City, Kansas, with campuses across the region. The just-launched Institute for Leadership and Positive Change is all about success by doing good. Learn more by reading recent press about the Institute in the Kansas City Business Journal.

Spring 2013

Download our white paper, New Ideas in CSRIn this paper, we offer five new ideas for designing a CSR experience to create authentic brand engagement.

Winter 2012

Confusion? Perhaps! "Doing good" in the workplace is an idea with many names. Corporate giving. Corporate citizenship. Community relations. Civic engagement. Community investment. Corporate sustainability. Corporate social responsibility . . . . and many more!

Enthusiasm? Yes! Our research suggests 10 types of employee-focused activities going on in most workplaces today.

  • Giving money to a charity of choice, directly or through a corporate foundation or matching gifts program (think corporate and employee donations to nonprofits or giving in the wake of natural disasters)

  • Volunteering in the community (think team-building days of service)

  • Recycling and respecting a sustainable environment (think stainless steel forks instead of plastic)

  • Serving on civic boards and committees (think time off for nonprofit board service)

  • Celebrating favorite causes by supporting and attending community events (think filling tables at chicken dinners)

  • Marketing with a focus on a charitable cause (think bake sales)

  • Purchasing products and services that include a charitable element (think Girl Scout cookies!)

  • Donating inventory, or collecting necessities to give to people in need, such as canned goods or used clothing (think food drives)

  • Sharing with others, including fellow employees and their families (think collections for medical costs)

  • Caring for health, a commitment to wellness and physical fitness, gratitude, self-worth and self-expression (think green smoothies in the break room)

Fall 2012

Emerging Trends in Social Responsibility: What Philanthropy Needs to Know

Philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector it serves, for decades has been a respected catalyst for positive change in American communities. Indeed, the formula for giving back has typically relied heavily on engaging consumers through donations to charitable, religious and educational institutions. But doing good is no longer the exclusive domain of philanthropy and charitable organizations. Americans are casting a much wider net, celebrating social responsibility in its many forms.

According to the Giving USA FoundationTM and its research partner, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, Americans give a total of nearly $300 billion in donations each year to nearly 1.5 million registered charities and religious organizations. Individuals, including family foundations and bequests, account for 88 percent of giving, with other foundations and corporate giving making up the rest.

Despite the large numbers, tax-deductible giving to registered charities and religious organizations as a percentage of GDP has held steady at roughly 2 percent for nearly four decades. That doesn’t mean giving is on the decline, though. Quite the contrary. Doing good is everywhere. And it is increasing. Positive social change is on the minds of most Americans. Even during the recent challenging economic times, although four out of five people said they felt the recession's impact, 70 percent explored ways to have a more meaningful life and give back to the community.

Women are particularly generous. The Giving USA FoundationTM reported in 2011 that 95.5 percent of female heads of households who earn more than $103,000 annually give to charity, compared with 75.8 percent of men at the same income level, and the average annual giving by those women is $1,910 versus $984 for the men. Even though women typically earn less than men, have less money in retirement and outlive their spouses, women are nevertheless still more likely to give--and give more--to charity than men at all income levels.

Over the past decade, giving to nonprofit organizations, although stagnant as a percentage of GDP, has held steady as an important value in American society. But the big picture of doing good has changed rather dramatically. What was once largely the domain of philanthropy, the platform for doing good is now more diffuse, extending beyond the traditional nonprofit sector into other industries, influencing consumer behavior and marketing, talent development, corporate priorities in sustainability, governance practices and regulatory paradigms.

The marketplace demands a socially responsible lifestyle, with 88 percent of new job seekers choosing employers based on strong corporate social responsibility values and 83 percent of consumers willing to change their consumption habits based on their perception of a company's social responsibility--or lack thereof. Market trends suggest that consumers and employees are beginning to define doing good as a combination of ten activities that create a socially responsible lifestyle:

  • Giving money to a charity of choice, directly or through a foundation
  • Volunteering in the community
  • Recycling and respecting a sustainable environment
  • Serving on civic boards and committees
  • Celebrating favorite causes by supporting and attending community events
  • Marketing with a focus on a charitable cause
  • Purchasing products and services that include a charitable element
  • Donating inventory, or collecting necessities to give to people in need, such as canned goods or used clothing
  • Sharing with others, including fellow employees and their families
  • Caring for health, a commitment to wellness and physical fitness, gratitude, self-worth and self-expression

The expanding definition of doing good is a direct reflection of a societal realization that generosity empowers the giver. Gratitude and giving are widely recognized as catalysts for happiness in today’s culture. For example, in a series of studies at the University of California, grateful people reported feeling 25 percent more happiness and energy—and 20 percent less envy and resentment—than ungrateful people. University of California studies also showed that grateful people slept 10 percent longer each night and exercised 33 percent more if they wrote down what they felt thankful for. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, says that “Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions.” Everyone, it seems, is striving to find ways to be happier and more grateful. Especially through experiences with social responsibility.

It is against this backdrop that philanthropy faces a compelling need--and a rich opportunity--to attract new donors with success and keep existing donors satisfied and engaged. Now is the perfect time for innovative strategies that celebrate all forms of doing good while still preserving traditional notions of donating to nonprofit organizations.

Download a printable version of this article.

Sources: Social Ethics: A Peek into 2012, Linda Novick O’Keefe, Founding Executive Director, Common Threads; Harvard Business Review, Green Research – Annual Sustainability Executive Survey, 2012; 2009 Edelman “Goodpurpose” survey of 6,000 consumers aged 18-64 across ten countries. 2006 Millennial Cause Study, Cone Inc. and AMP Insights. Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, “Giving In Numbers” Study, 2011. Giving USA, Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, 2011.