We have entered an age—no doubt as moral correction to the “greed is good” philosophy of the ‘80s and ‘90s—in which charitable giving has become an imperative of good business practice. Of course, charity does begin at home.

In 2012, America’s largest companies increased their overall charitable spending by 4%, after several years where the recession capped that number. Among the largest givers were Exxon, Wal-Mart, and Goldman Sachs, and in fact, over 13 U.S. companies gave $100 million or more.

For the companies which espouse a clear 21st century culture, giving to affect social change is a vital part of their business model. Starbucks, for example, has increased their giving by nearly 200% over the last few years, in large part to improve quality of life for people around the world. Google gave over $115 million last year to advance study of math and science. And United Healthcare, which gives $60 million annually, has earmarked $2 million to assist the American Heart Association in building walking paths around the country.

In the optical world, this strategy of tying business-generating activities into efforts for the global good has begun to resonate with many companies. Of the six-plus billion people in the world, more than 40% need vision care but cannot get it. Hence, companies like Essilor of America, Inc., which has established the Essilor Vision Foundation, focus on bringing vision care to indigent children. ADLens, a new player in the variable focus lens space, has created a Buy One Give One program which provides a part of Adlens glasses to someone in the developing world for each pair sold. Warby Parker, the controversial online retailer with strong appeal to Millennials, has built much of its marketing platform on the “buy one, give one” model. And equipment supplier Santinelli International, Inc. is applying its core manufacturing competency by participating in Habitat for Humanity.

This is a “win-win” marketing strategy that no one can debate, one that will proliferate down to the individual practice level. Giving institutions know fully well that businesses need to capitalize on their charitable efforts, and many of them are quite willing to assist by promoting their sponsors to their constituents. There are in fact charity consultants who help small businesses pick and promote the right charities for them.

With this in mind, independent optical people should look for giving situations that serve the vision care field, such as a donation to scientific study of vision-impairing diseases. Wouldn’t your patients feel better about you and your practice if they knew that part of the fees they pay go to better vision health for everyone? Wouldn’t that be both a cultural and marketing game changer?

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