Profiles in Partnership
Interview with Laura Pincus Hartman, Director, External Partnerships
and Virginia McArthur, Director Gal
Zynga, an online game company, is committed to transforming the world through virtual social goods. One program, Sweet Seeds for Haiti, started in October 2009. Through this virtual social goods initiative, players purchase sweet seeds in FarmVille. Depending on the campaign, fifty to one hundred percent of sales from the limited edition virtual items go towards their nonprofit partner FATEM to build a school in Haiti. Zynga players have made real change by raising millions for several international nonprofits in campaigns that have now expanded throughout many Zynga games.
BB: I’m hearing from the nonprofit side that a corporation can’t help but be selfish, and when they do any sort of joint-venture, cause marketing or partnership it’s all about making money. Do you think there’s a misconception that corporations can’t really have a cause consciousness?
Laura: People come in and talk about is there or is there not a corporate social responsibility, CSR, and I really find the question relatively irrelevant. I don’t think we need to talk about whether there’s an actual responsibility or a duty because we’re not doing what we’re doing out of duty, we’re not doing it because we bear some responsibility to the world. We’re doing it because it’s appropriate to our corporate DNA.
For some corporations it might not be strategic to engage in some social activity, but if we look at Zynga, it certainly is central to our being to engage in this work. Now in order to do it, you have to be able to support it. We have to figure out a way to build it into our strategy and then sustain it in the way that any other studio or franchise within Zynga is sustained. So that’s why you want the corporation to build out its social strategy from a financially viable perspective and I think that there’s an inherent mistrust because people view corporations as profit maximizers. And if you’re going to maximize, then maybe it could be viewed as something that would be taking advantage of vulnerable populations. But I think that when you look at what we’re doing, we’re really trying to build a sustainable and viable strategy.
Virginia: It’s one of our core tenants where we try to help sustain people’s lives. We don’t ever want to bring a partner in and not be able to help sustain their charitable efforts, their fundraising efforts. This is an extension for them, it’s a new way for them to raise funds.
BB: Your efforts raise not only money for the nonprofit projects but also money for Zynga.org.
Virginia: We will never get away from the fact that we are, in the end, a business. We are a social entrepreneurship, and we are working and partnering with these nonprofit organizations and helping them raise funds, but it is profitable for us as well. It has to be so we can sustain that partnership. Otherwise it would always be a one-off and we’d never be able to make that tangible difference.
Laura: So it’s sustainable for our partner but we also have to be able to say it’s sustainable for the studios. If they’re doing it and if you they’re constantly having to make sacrifices within their own budgets, within their own staff even, then they’re not going to want to do it long-term either.
BB: This seems like an unusually business model.
Laura: This is a viable model for any business enterprise because what we’re saying is, you’re not only not making a sacrifice when you engage in these social endeavors, you’re doing it in a way that’s profitable for the organization, profitable for the employees and profitable for the partners, the nonprofits, they are going to benefit as well. And so that’s going to mean that everyone wants to work towards making this viable long-term.
Up Next: Part 4: How long should a partnership last?
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