Sunday, November 19, 2006

Integrating one's mission

More on Better World Books . . .

Not sure why I followed this particular path, but . . .

I went to the Better World Books blog. Nothing special. So I checked out their archives: "Hmm. The blog hasn't been around long. . . . I wonder what they say in their first post?" So I clicked on the link to July 2006.

First post, at the top of the page (obviously last post for July):

Books for Africa Shipment

A message from David Murphy, our CEO:

Just wanted to share with you all that we shipped three full truckloads of books from our warehouse to the Books for Africa warehouse between July 12th and July 17th. . . . a total of about 58,460 books! We are building another truckload as I write this and we will have additional book inventory going to BFA post-Rush. . . .

Whoa! I thought: "These guys are really serious about their mission. . . ."

Got down a few more posts. It's an interview with John Wood, founder of one of the non-profits Better World Books supports. By this point, I realize, I'm getting about three levels "deep" in integrated mission. (Better World Books (level 1) is blogging John Wood of Room to Read (level 2) and I, John Holzmann (level 3?), am seeing lessons and takeaways and insights (level 4?) from what Wood is saying. . . .)

  • First insight: Wood maintains an unshakeable, laser-sharp focus on his goal. The interviewer asks skeptical questions. Wood answers, and yet, in a way . . . he doesn't, really. Does he? But he sure gets his message out! [Note to self: Learn from Wood's example!]:

    Q: You’re one of several Microsoft entrepreneurs who seem eager to live out some fantasy of saving the world. As the founder of Room to Read, do you really believe you can personally “educate the world’s children,” as the subtitle of your forthcoming book, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World,” proclaims?

    We’re trying to open libraries and schools, mostly for kids K to 5, in the developing world at a pace that emulates Starbucks’. With 850 million illiterate people in the world, we need the nonprofit sector to scale rapidly.

    But can libraries open as quickly as coffee bars?

    In the past six years, we have established 2,500 libraries and 210 schools in Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Our model allows us to build a school with running water and toilets and a library for $12,000 in Nepal. We can do a school in Vietnam for about $15,000.

  • From what I can tell, it is Wood who notes, "When Apple Computer was seeking its first outside CEO, Apple's chairman Steve Jobs recruited John Sculley from Pepsi by asking him, 'Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?'" --Wow! Talk about powerful! --Reminds me of our second daughter who, during her last semester at art school, was working for an advertising firm that does the campaigns for one of the major chocolate companies. "I want to do something significant," she said. "I don't want to spend my life selling chocolate. . . ." --So she is working for an ad agency that specializes in serving non-profits.
  • It appears to be the Better World Books blogger, Fritz (though, possibly, the New York Times Magazine interviewer who wrote the article from which Fritz quoted), who comments: "Twenty years later John Wood, leaving Microsoft for Room to Read, demonstrates changing the world isn't iPods and Outlook Express, but educating the world's children." --Another strong mission-oriented statement.
"Well," I say to myself. "What I have read of and from Better World Books is all well and good. But it is relatively easy to talk. . . . My question is: What are they really all about? Is this a ploy to work off potential purchasers' emotions? . . . Who are these guys (Better World Books), anyway? --I mean, really."

Ahh! A link at the bottom of the page: About Us. I click . . .

I'm shocked. Another integrated mission statement:

Our story began with the dream of three college friends who formed a social venture, a business with the mission to promote literacy. A single book drive at one university has grown into a nationwide effort with thousands of people involved, all looking to improve the quality of life for people through literacy.

We believe that literacy gives people water to drink, imparts knowledge to eliminate disease, and develops self-esteem that enables people to make their mark on the world.

Our story has taken us to places we had never seen. Our dream is to continue to work for those whom we have never met.

There's actually nothing about the people who work there, the people who started Better World Books. (The page does include a photo of the three guys who started the company, and a caption underneath that lists their names.) But the page is about Better World Books itself. [Note to self: Better check your company's "About Us" webpages! . . . Makes sense, doesn't it: "About Us" should be about the company. . . . But . . . ]

I am becoming more and more impressed: there is such integration among all the pages I have seen. Such focus. Talk about brand identity! . . .

But still. I really would like to learn about the founders. So where do I find out about them? Who are they? What are they all about? Is their commitment real? Or (I'm becoming more and more skeptical of my skepticism) are they poseurs?

Ah! Another link: Our History.

Interesting. (I won't reproduce it here. It really is interesting.) But the "history" concludes:
Today, Better World Books continues to be the leader in converting donated books into funding that supports world literacy efforts. In addition to its college and university textbook drives, Better World Books now works with libraries and other book sources with the goal of promoting literacy. The Better World Books team looks forward to the promise of the future and to continued growth and success with the help of its partners.
Sounds all nice and warm and fuzzy. But . . . wait. Really. Truly. Bottom line: How much do they really donate to the causes for which they speak so proudly?

Ah! Another link: BWB By the Numbers.
Since our inception in 2003 to September 2006, we have:
  • Been active in collecting books from over 900 colleges and universities and over 500 libraries in North America
  • Saved more than 5 million pounds of books from landfills
  • Raised more than $1.3M for approximately 70 non-profits focused on literacy and education; specifically:
    • Raised more than $900,000 for Books For Africa
    • Raised more than $150,000 for Room to Read
    • Raised more than $80,000 for the National Center for Family Literacy
    • Raised more than $50,000 locally for the Robinson Community Learning Center
  • Donated more than 450,000 books to Books for Africa and The National Center for Family Literacy
  • Contributed more than $475,000 to college and university service clubs and volunteers who have run book drives for BWB.
I'm satisfied. And I'm left wondering: . . . How should we apply this integrated vision and mission to our company? Can we . . . No. How can we integrate our mission and vision more thoroughly into all our company's communication? How can we state so concisely and precisely and consistently what we're all about?

I sense I have a lot of thinking and praying and writing to do. . . .

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