Editorial: Holiday Helping

By Len Monheit

Heading into the formal holiday season, it’s perhaps appropriate to consider for a moment the opportunities we, as companies, have to contribute beyond the bounds of our individual organizations, to internal and external efforts. This past week’s passage of AER legislation, in fact, speaks to the importance of investing wisely to protect and support industry growth, and there’s frequently not an obvious formula to follow as numerous organizations approach you with hands out. What’s a company to do?

In this particular case, I’m not speaking only about the philanthropic efforts of groups such as the Healthy Foundation or Vitamin Angels, rather I’m speaking about groups focusing on education, lobbying, research and other infrastructure activities intended to create a better national or international business opportunity for dietary supplements and natural health products. We could create an almost endless list of these organizations, starting with the trade associations, extending into aggregates or offshoots of trade associations, then delving into category focused groups such as the American Botanical Council, and bringing in consumer groups such as Citizen’s for Health, and other industry organizations, such as the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance (DSEA).

By now, most of the budgets for 2007 are well defined and if you haven’t simply repeated 2006 commitments, then you’ve at least considered where to allocate your ‘industry support funds’ for the coming year. Many companies just go through the motions, anteing up to known causes based on historical interactions and perception. Some do not, however, and revisit their commitments frequently. And still other organizations are ‘relative’ newcomers to the industry, seeking to make wise choices to support future growth. Not only is this frequently a decision about which trade association to join, it becomes ultimately the beginning of a political alignment that for successful companies, places them in the right company – from the start. So these decisions matter, these choices can dramatically impact the company’s prospects.

So what process has your company gone through? If you’ve been around awhile, did you allocate the same amount as previous years? More? Less? If you’re new, how did you make your decisions, who did you consult and what was important? Or are you still waiting for advice and input? What factors and activities will you be watching? For everyone, how will you be evaluating your investment, since like anything corporate, there must be some form of justification, monetary or otherwise, behind the commitments you make.

Perhaps you focused on the peers in the organization, perhaps its activities on Capitol Hill. Maybe you were impressed with the group’s commitment to fundamental scientific research, and maybe it was its outspoken tone in the media in support of a supplement/NHP category. And maybe, just maybe, it had something to do with the record of its past activities, efforts to build and sustain a healthy industry in general. Or it just might have been that a particular group was first, last, loudest, clearest, most consistent, compelling, or even that they were the only group that would have you. Whatever the case, you, as an organization, have presumably made some commitments and investments for the coming year. Hopefully, this commitment is not a blind donation. Hopefully, it comes with objectives and a mission. Hopefully this mission is aligned with personal and corporate vision, and in fact, becomes an investment that supports future commitments.

Perhaps, I’m being a bit too non-specific here. If that’s the case, I do apologize. It seems to me that there are so many groups and causes that navigating them becomes a challenge, and recent conversations have indicated quite clearly to me that companies and individuals in this industry are confused about what to do and whom to support. There is no single answer to this question – it depends on so many factors. There are however, several questions that can and should be asked to determine best fit opportunities. Frequently though, one is not exactly sure who to ask. Here are some of the questions though:

  • Who is the group (name, role, coverage)?
  • Who are the members?
  • What do they stand for? What is their mission? Are the values clear?
  • Who (individuals) stands behind the group?
  • How long have they been in operation?
  • What was the trigger for their origin?
  • What would they describe as their biggest accomplishment?
  • How does their cv read? Is it consistent and aligned with the group’s mission?
  • What is their perception of the biggest need of their constituents? Of the industry?
  • If the group has been around for some time, has it evolved as industry and the business environment has changed?
Some other factors that might be helpful to consider include:
  • Does membership in one lead to or preclude others?
  • Does the group have either the critical mass, or path to it, to create a measurable difference and accomplish its objectives?
  • As appropriate, is there adequate focus so that the money and resources invested are clearly targeted for maximum impact?

In closing, I would like to note that, in my opinion, there are worthy organizations in serious need of support. Some have been around for years, others are relative newcomers. Some are on the radar through multiple news releases; others are much more low key, but doing fundamental work to support our industry and the values which we hold dear.

Whether you, like some companies in the industry, provide broad support to numerous groups, or have carefully selected two or three to focus your interest, your participation is important. From the satisfaction of contributing to worthy causes to making a smart investment that will fuel future success, these are the frequently non-value chain relationships and networks that help build a better environment for us all.

In this holiday season, kudos to those groups and organizations and to the companies that actively support them. Congratulations to those that recognize that where a company is challenged, a group of like-minded companies can find success. And thanks to those that realize that the only battles to be fought are not only with competitors; those fought behind the scenes or on a different battleground have as much impact as those in the marketplace.

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