During the current Covid-19 pandemic in which so many individuals and small and mid-sized businesses are struggling to stay afloat, our attention has been drawn to many key issues that we may not have focused on before. For instance, according to the 2020 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, about three-quarters of Millennial and Gen Z respondents said the pandemic brought new issues to their attention and increased their sympathy for the needs of others in their local communities and across the globe. The same percentage said they plan to take real action to benefit their communities after the pandemic, while about 70% of respondents have already taken steps in this direction.
Recent Mintel data states that struggling retailers have potential to win new customers by connecting with them on an emotional level. Now more than ever, consumers are more focused on how they—and brands—can give back and support ethical causes.
From a business perspective, the Business Roundtable has discussed broadening the function of companies beyond purely financial gains (shareholder capitalism) to benefit all stakeholders (including addressing societal issues).
As an example of this model, since 1982, Newman’s Own has been focused on marrying business with philanthropy. The brand’s 100% profits to charity model has come back into fashion with a whole new generation of people who weren’t even familiar with the Academy Award winning actor and founder, Paul Newman.
As a Connecticut resident and huge fan of Paul Newman, I’ve been following the work of Newman’s Own Foundation and was thrilled to catch up recently with Miriam E. Nelson, Acting President and CEO of Newman’s Own Foundation, to learn more.
Newman’s Own Foundation was established by the late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman to continue his philanthropic legacy to use all profits and royalties from the sale of Newman’s Own food company’s food aimed to make our world a better place. Since its inception, Paul Newman and Newman’s Own Foundation have donated more than $560 million to thousands of charitable organizations around the world.
As Acting President and CEO of Newman’s Own Foundation, Nelson is a leader with extensive experience in academia and nonprofits, and is a well-known expert with numerous articles and bestselling books on food policy, public health, and civic engagement.
Here’s what Nelson shares about the mission of Newman’s Own Foundation, the key strategies of the organization around philanthropic contribution, and more:
Kathy Caprino: In what ways do you feel personally connected to Newman’s Own founder Paul Newman?
Miriam Nelson: I always knew and appreciated Paul Newman as an actor. My favorite movies growing up were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. And while I was aware of his accomplishments as a race-car driver, I also knew him as an aficionado of good, wholesome food. I became more acquainted with him when, a decade ago, I was working with colleagues from Tufts University to improve the lives of children across the country. Newman’s Own generously provided funding for our project to curb childhood obesity.
Now, in my role at Newman’s Own Foundation, I get to see first-hand how Paul stood up for the underdog and for those who faced great challenges in life. It is an honor to follow in his footsteps and carry out his vision.
Caprino: Can you provide an example of a nonprofit you’ve invested in, where that investment enabled them to scale up their impact in a significant way?
Nelson: One of the first things that Paul did after founding his food company was to create a camp for children with serious illnesses. He named it The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp after the feisty gang of “outlaws” in his film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
When asked why he founded the camp, Paul said: “I wanted to acknowledge luck; the chance and benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others.” Paul felt that children who—through no fault of their own—were seriously ill, should have the same opportunities to have joy in their lives that other kids had. Over the years, inspired by what was happening at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, Paul, along with like-minded and generous supporters, opened up similar camps all around the world, sparking a global movement and creating a very special community of 30 camps and programs now known as SeriousFun Children’s Network.
SeriousFun Children’s Network serves children with serious illnesses and their families, always free of charge. Collectively, they have created 1.3 million camp experiences for children and family members since 1988. Their work continues to inspire me.
Caprino: From your perspective and work experience, what leadership skills do you believe are critical during this time of Covid-19? Have you personally had any leadership challenges to overcome this year, related to the pandemic?
Nelson: I started this job on January 1st and had two months in residence with my wonderful team at the Foundation, and then the pandemic hit. I had barely gotten to know people, then found myself working from home.
As a leader during these times, you need to acknowledge that the most important component of your operation is your people: their health and well-being come first. While working remotely has challenged us to find new ways to stay connected, it is critical that we do so.
I check in on my team members regularly—in small groups, as a team, and as individuals. I feel very connected to and engaged with my colleagues, and feel that they recognized that leadership has their well-being as a top priority.
Caprino: During times of crisis like these, how can funding organizations best allocate their resources?
Nelson: I wrote a piece about this topic for The Chronicle of Philanthropy in the early days of the pandemic. Essentially, I called for small and medium-sized foundations to stay the course and continue to invest in the areas that they traditionally supported, and that’s just what we’ve done with some additional funding to the camps as they were particularly hard hit.
While large foundations—Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others—have the resources to fund the vaccine hunters, and Congress—through the CARES Act—targeted unemployment, small foundations need to prevent chaos in other areas. If everyone redirects their aid toward the latest crisis, we run the risk of hurting communities that rely on funding from small foundations.
Caprino: With consumers paying more attention to socially responsible brands, what’s one piece of advice you’d offer to other industry leaders or up-and-coming businesses that are interested in weaving corporate giving into their business model?
Nelson: You need to do more than write checks. You need to care for your employees, think about your environmental footprint, and hone and direct the talents and expertise of your team to strengthen your community. Leaders who do this improve their bottom lines because consumers have stronger emotional ties and loyalty to businesses that have a well-rounded approach to their social mission. Also, be generous and give back.
Caprino: What is the key mission of the Newman’s Own Foundation? What type of social impact is most pressing for the foundation and why was this focus chosen?
Nelson: We were founded to give 100% of the profits and royalties that we receive from Newman’s Own food company away. Over the years, we have directed our philanthropy to many great causes, but a through-current has always been children. Paul cared deeply about children and, for this reason, we continue along this path.
Caprino: How does having this type of impact improve all business operations— what is the effect on employees, leaders, partners, etc. when social impact is a key goal?
Nelson: Newman’s Own Inc. makes wholesome, high quality food that tastes great. There are a few other companies that also do that, but Newman’s Own Inc. is the one-and-only that gives away 100% of profits to the Foundation to then donate. In this moment in time, what an amazing thing to be a part of—as an employee, as a consumer, as a partner, etc. There’s a double benefit: employees are part of making a great product and improving the world. Consumers get to feed their family high-quality, delicious food, and make a difference. These twin engines fuel our bottom line in a positive way.
Caprino: What are three strategies you can offer leaders who wish to incorporate more of a mission-driven purpose into their organizations?
1. Connect with companies—Newman’s Own, Patagonia, and others—that are doing well by doing good.
2. Focus your mission on something that is relevant and relatable to your consumer.
3. Tell your consumer what positive change you are making.
For more information, visit Newman’s Own Foundation.
Kathy Caprino is a career and leadership coach, speaker and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professional women build their most impactful careers through her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs.