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Communications to Power Better Business

As of this writing, 5,852 companies, representing 471,095 workers across 85 countries, carry the “Certified B Corporation” badge. Our firm, Mission Partners, is one of them. But broadcasting this label is more than just surface branding. 

This week on the show, our Chief Operating Officer, Bridget Pooley, sits down with Carrie Fox to discuss purpose. Why does purpose matter? How does a business build a culture that embraces the question, “What If?” And for all the challenges that achieving B Corp Certification may pose, is it worth it?

Before Mission Partners, Bridget worked at the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University. The Center works to advance the field of social impact by educating and inspiring marketers and communicators, fundraisers, and journalists. She served on the corporate partnerships team at Share Our Strength, which many listeners might know by their No Kid Hungry Campaign. 

Ours is an organization that has embraced the objectives of the B Corp Certification wholly; we wear this accomplishment with pride, including how we intentionally use our business as a tool to advance communications. Bridget’s incredible experience and leadership as a B Corp champion have taught us much about how we present ourselves to our clients, peers, and the world. This week, we dig in on that intentionality and share how we at Mission Partners lead through our core values. 

Thank you, Bridget Pooley, for joining us for this week’s conversation. 

Episode Transcript

Bridget Pooley: The growth of the B Corp community, it just feels really promising to me for the future that the more B Corps we can have in this space, the more people who are thinking about this and being measured to this, I think that’s better outcomes for everybody, right? It’s better outcomes for employees. It’s better outcomes for the folks that we get to work with. I think everybody benefits when we stop thinking about profit as the primary motivator and instead think about the impact that we have every day on our world, on the people who we get to work with.

Carrie Fox: Hi there and welcome to the Mission Forward Podcast, where each week we bring you a thought provoking and perspective shifting conversation on the power of communications. I’m Carrie Fox, your host and CEO of Mission Partners, a social impact communications firm and certified B Corporation, and that was the voice of Bridget Pooley, Mission Partners chief operating officer who joined me for a great and reflective conversation on the power of leading a business through its core values. One of the most common questions we get asked by fellow business owners is, is the B Corp certification really worth it? I can tell you many times over that, yes, without question, the B Corp certification for us has been transformative, but it’s been that way because of how we have leaned into the process. On this show, we are looking closer at how you can use communications as a tool for systems change and social justice. And to us that includes how we use our business as a tool to advance communications. This is a great conversation with some very real and practical insights about values-driven leadership. I hope you enjoy it, and I’ll see you on the flip side. All right, Bridget Pooley, what a fun way to spend the next little bit of my day. And for those of you listening, it won’t take you very long to feel the same way. Today’s guest is someone I know very well as I have spent just about every working day since April 2017 by her side, which is both hard to imagine and like, "Holy Moly, how has that happened already?" But you know those ads for the most interesting man in the world, you know those? Like, he is the most interesting man in the world. I like to think that Bridget is in fact one of the most interesting people in the world, and here’s why. So by day, she is COO of Mission Partners and how lucky we are that she is in that role. But she is an active adventurer, an athlete, a B Corp champion, an enormously valuable citizen in her Minneapolis-St. Paul community. She has been on the ground floor since day one of our B Corp journey, and she makes every little bit of strategy at Mission Partners more intentional and thoughtful. So I find her to be one of the most interesting people I have ever met in my life and I’m super excited that you’ll get to hear a little bit from her too. Prior to Mission Partners, Bridget worked at the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University. The Center works to advance the field of social impact by educating and inspiring marketers and communicators, fundraisers and journalists, so obviously a lot of overlap there. She began her career also at Georgetown University Law Center, but some of you might not know this about her, I think it’s one of those cool little facts, that she served on the corporate partnerships team at Share Our Strength, which many listeners might know by their No Kid Hungry Campaign. So if you can see what I mean, one of the most interesting people in the world, that could easily describe BP. So Bridget, there’s a lot of topics we want to take on in today’s conversation, but the reason I wanted you here today was because of this big word that we use all the time, power, and specifically the power of purpose and why being a B Corp has been such a powerful tool for our growth at Mission Partners. So without any more from me, I would love to hear a little bit from you. Tell me a little more about the story of how you came to do this purposeful work and we’ll dive into our conversation from there.

Bridget Pooley: Thank you, Carrie. Well, I’m so glad to be here with you, feels like a fun extension of all of our good time together. When I think about purpose, it sort of happens in an inadvertent but authentic way through. As I look back over my career, my time at Georgetown, my time at Share Our Strength, and then back at Georgetown and with Mission Partners, purpose has always been central to the work that I did, and I think for many of us it takes a little time to find exactly what purpose we might be called to, right? So I felt really strongly about the work I did at Share Our Strength on Childhood Hunger and I felt like that issue was so core, and then thought a lot about the intersecting issues that feed into hunger, right? So things like access to healthcare and housing and education and really thinking about how interconnected all of these issues are. And so in more recent years have been able to look across issue, but when I think about purpose and the way that shows up for us Mission Partners, being a B Corp also feels authentic and it happened almost inadvertently, right? I remember learning about B Corp at my time at Georgetown. I worked with students who were interested in going into fields at the crossroads of Social Impact and communications. And so certainly B Corps were on the horizon there, but at such a lower level. There were I think just about two B Corps in 2016 right before I came to Mission Partners. And I remember one of our first conversations at Mission Partners, Carrie, you said, "What do you know about B Corps?" I think you had recently learned about them, had probably seen a few examples of it. I know our work with Carol Cone and the Cone Collaborative showed us a lot of successful B Corps and we thought, "Gosh, what if we could do this?" And for me, the B Corp experience in thinking about the purpose of Mission Partners and the process we went through to sort of examine, like look under every single rock about what purposes and how deep does it really go at Mission Partners, to me it felt like such validation for everything that you had built, and that I was getting to work alongside you to continue to build. And we just went through our recertification as you know very well, a laborious process, but such a wonderful and promising process. And I think that commitment to purpose that we have, I think back to our first days, it felt like validation. Our renewal process, it felt like magnification, right? This idea that where we started and the deeper and deeper we got into what it means to be a purposeful company, we saw such a huge point increase as a result of that.

Carrie Fox: I love that so much, validation from magnification and that makes so much sense. And there’s two words that you used and I know you know used them, but they’re so core to this, which is what if, right? We started of what if Mission Partners became a B corporation? But really what we were asking is what if we really challenged how this company shows up and what if we went through line by line and laborious looked at our policies and questioned what a different kind of policy could be? What if we centered equity in everything we do in the decisions we make? What if we centered values? And it was you that led those really hard introspective conversations that have gotten us to where we are now. And I’m curious, as you look back 2022, here we are now, to that process we started in 2017, what has surprised you the most about that process?

Bridget Pooley: Yeah, well I appreciate the recognition for the work, but I will say that much of this is based on a idea that you had before I even came on board at Mission Partners, this idea of having a company that is the company we want to work at and not having a company … I mean when you look at the traditional shareholder model being held to solely profit, you see cuts and things like the amount of support that you give to employees around healthcare, the benefits that you have, right? Because that’s not where you’re placing your value. You look at the impact on the environment that some of the organizations have. And so when I think about the work that we did, this what if question, it really started in my mind with that. And I wasn’t there in the very beginning days, but I saw that show up in our conversations about what it would mean to work at Mission Partners and then once I started. So I just want to give acknowledgment for that. And then when I think about what surprised me, a couple of things come to mind. One is how much of what we do we take for granted, and when I think about the power of communication and specifically as we think about the way we’re showing up to our employees, there were a number of times where we’re asking ourselves questions throughout the B Corp process, the certification process, and we thought, "Oh yeah, we do that." But had we ever communicated about it? So a great example of this is, I remember one of my very first days at Mission Partners, a team member had just had a baby and she actually would bring her baby into the office so she could breastfeed, because she had an enzyme that meant that she had to breastfeed sort of on demand and couldn’t pump. We were asking ourselves for the B Corp survey, do we have a policy that creates the safe space for new mothers to be able to breastfeed? And I mean the answer was yes, of course. I mean, look at this example. But we had never written it down on paper, and so just the act of putting it down on paper, the inclusivity of that too so that people who maybe don’t have the relationship to be able to act or have the power dynamic to be able to act can see that this is a policy. To me, those were the pieces that were the most surprising, the opportunities for us to again validate what we had already been doing and cement that within the organization. The other thing that’s surprising to me is how much impact we can have as a small business, and I think about our new score, the huge growth we had. I mean we’re scoring in the top percentile across the board in terms of the way that we show up for our workers in ways that huge companies that have millions and millions more dollars in profit aren’t doing for their companies. And I think that saying, "Oh, we can’t do that because we’re a small business," that’s not an answer for us, right? For us it’s about how we can show up in places where we can be a really good employer to the team members who work for us, and that’s surprising to me how much power we have, and that’s probably because there’s so many bad role models out there in the corporate world. But I look to so many organizations. I know we talk a lot about some of the folks who inspire us, folks like Patagonia and Warby Parker, Ben & Jerry, are some of those big names in the B Corp space and how much we can do just as a small business to live up to that.

Carrie Fox: You know, I love that so much. And I think it’s interesting because the way that business is presented, the way media presents business, is that big business are the role models, right? So if you’re a small business, you can learn the best practices from the big players. But the opposite can be true too, you know? Being small allows you to be nimble and creative and take chances that perhaps big businesses can’t do. But small business can have a huge impact. And you’re right, I think so many small businesses say, "How would I do that? I won’t have the resources to do that. I don’t have the manpower to do that. I don’t have the capacity to do that." But there’s always something you can do. There’s always an action you can take.

Bridget Pooley: And I think that lets us punch above our weight in terms of the types of people that we can recruit too. I think about the early days of Mission Partners, early days even at Impact Communications prior to Mission Partners, and partially it was location-based, but it’s also who you know in the DC nonprofit community, which is a wonderful community and kind of smaller. And I look at the folks who we’ve had come into our doors in terms of interest and jobs. I think about the amazing people who are on our team, people who might never have heard of us if we weren’t a B Corp, right? And folks who I know myself, I don’t know if I could ever not work for B Corp because I know that there is a commitment to me as an employee that somebody is being held accountable for it. There’s metrics in place to how they’re showing up as an employer. And so that’s led us to think so differently about who we can recruit, who can work on our team, how people can find us in a way that maybe other small businesses don’t have access to.

Carrie Fox: So for those who are listening, some might be hearing this and saying, "Ah, I’ve been thinking about the B Corp model and maybe I should explore that more deeply." And maybe others are saying, "Hey, I’m firmly a 501(c)(3) here. There’s no exploring B Corp model." But what are some of the pieces that you’ve carried forward from these last couple years, whether … You and I talk a lot about how we center our values or that purpose of why where we’re leading, that would transfer to folks who are listening that are firmly in the nonprofit or foundation space?

Bridget Pooley: Yeah, well I would say there’s certainly not a one size fits all approach. And we’re located in Maryland, which was the first state to pass the Benefit Corporation legislation. So we get to cement that into our articles of incorporation as a business. You can be a B Corp, you can be a 501(c)(3). You can be a foundation, regardless of how you’re structured. I think what it comes back to though is that very point of purpose, Carrie, right? When we think about the way that we’re showing up, people actually assume we’re a nonprofit. I’m sure you hear that all the time too, because I think because of the way that we live our purpose, the way that we live our values, we’ve gone through so many exercises to think really specifically about who we are as an organization. I think about our public benefit statement, which is tied to our status as a benefit corporation in the state of Maryland. It’s a really specific articulation of who we are and why we exist that, I don’t know if every company gets to go through it. I don’t know if every nonprofit has an opportunity to refresh that with such intention the way that we do, but being grounded in that, and I think that statement combined with our values, is really our sweet spot because we get to have a reason for existing and then the why we show up. And I think that’s purpose, right?

Carrie Fox: Yeah.

Bridget Pooley: I think I why we exist, what we do and then how we do it really comes through strongly. And that can be the case for a foundation. It can be the case for a nonprofit and sort of play that out and do that exercise.

Carrie Fox: There’s another important thread here around the time that we are living in, and I remember many conversations that I’ve had with you in the past and pretty recently too, around what side of history we want to be on. And so these were conversations that started even before we launched Mission Partners, when we thought about what we were going to set up as an agency here. But from those very first days with you, of thinking about, "Are we going to do this part of the way? Are we going to skim the surface on this process or are we going to go really deep on this process, and really stand for something as an organization, and as a result know very clearly what side of history we want to be on." And so that’s something else maybe for you to expand on here as we’re thinking about those who are listening, that purpose is not just who you are in the moment and how you show up. It’s much broader about what the organization stand for and what you leave behind too. Right?

Bridget Pooley: Right. And I think there’s so much that happens as window dressing or at a superficial level in so many organizations, right, to think about greenwashing or any of these opportunities that folks have, right? There is a stronger connection now than ever before in the connection of values to how people spend their money, to what organizations they want to work for. Value is so deep and a lot of organizations I think are … I don’t want to discredit some of the superficial work because it’s not all bad, but it’s not deep enough. It’s the surface level. It’s enough to get by and to perhaps show up in advertising so that somebody maybe is more likely to direct their values that way. When I think about movements like One Percent for the Planet, Fair Trade Certified, B Corp Certification, any of these, the process by which … or the process you go through in order to obtain one of those certifications is so much deeper, right? I mean, Carrie, I have spreadsheets about every address of team members and what the geographical distribution of folks are and how many people are supported at every single nonprofit that we work with. The level of reporting that we have to do holds us accountable in really immeasurable ways. It’s one thing for an organization to turn their logo green and say, "We love the environment," and it’s another one to have to report out on CO2 emissions and how much waste you have and what your recycling process looks like and your water recycling. It’s just such a deeper level of commitment and laborious, as we said. But I think still worth it because it demonstrates that depth of purpose.

Carrie Fox: Right, right. And maybe an important reminder that organizations don’t have to do it all. They’re not expected to do it all. We don’t have a physical footprint anymore. And so our ability to report on certain things is nearly impossible. However, we can, as you said, report really deeply on the kind of wellness initiatives that we provide to our employees, the focus of our 401(k) and how we focus on impact investments, right? There’s little changes that have made a big impact and that I think would benefit a lot of other organizations listening too.

Bridget Pooley: The 401(k) one, the 401(k) example is such a strong example, Carrie, and I’d argue a huge change, thinking about the investment that our employees make into their future and the investment that we make for our employees in their future. And not wanting those dollars to go to some of those corporations that maybe on the surface have good programs, but we know don’t align with our values. And so that’s been a huge change. I also think even just the way that we show recognition, we used to give out gift cards to places like Starbucks or Amazon, which you can say what you want about either of those companies, so we’ve redirected those dollars to B Corps, to organizations that are Black-led and women-led, and are so much more aligned with who we are as a business. And so even these really subtle ways that we’re able to show up, I think speak so much and reinforce that with our employees too, right? Because then they’re not saying like, "Oh, Mission Partners is great place to work, but then their dollars are going to Amazon," right? And just kind of find every opportunity we can to pull that through. And you’re right, we don’t have to report on things like our environmental impact. And I think maybe one of the things that’s overwhelming about the B Corp process is there’s a lot of things that are not applicable, especially to smaller organizations or even organizations that might be one person. I know a lot of B Corps here in the state of Minnesota that are one person. You don’t have to report on all of those pieces. You get measured on the things that are applicable to you, and the process is so customized for the work you do, the scope of your work and the impact that you have.

Carrie Fox: Tell me about some of the work that you’re doing. I know you’re really active in B Corp … is it B Corp, Minneapolis-St. Paul?

Bridget Pooley: We’re actually statewide. We’ve got about a dozen B Corps in the state, including a brand new one, which is a chocolate B Corp down the road for me, which I can’t wait to try. But we’ve got a really great network of folks in the region who are committed to business as a force for good in Minnesota. It’s been a really interesting time to be part of this movement, especially as Minneapolis and St. Paul have really been on national radar for a number of reasons, specifically stemming from George Floyd’s murder. The B Corps have really rallied to try to be part of the solution, thinking about how businesses show up in community alongside government organizations and community organizations to be a really important community member during that time. And so there have been some really amazing leaders in our space who’ve been able to show up for community and support community, and it’s been really incredible. I came to Minnesota in the beginning of 2020 and helped start Minnesota B Local, and just to see the evolution of that over time.

Carrie Fox: I think back a lot to when you moved to Minnesota was obviously such an interesting time. The pandemic hadn’t started yet and only a few months after you got there, George Floyd was murdered not too far from where you were living at the time. And how that experience really seems to have shaped how you bring purpose into our workplace, how you think about the intersection of purpose and racial justice and purpose and impact and all of these different intersecting points that we work on. But curious if there’s anything that you reflect on now, a couple years out, it’s only been really two years out, on how that experience shaped you and how you think about your work now.

Bridget Pooley: Yeah. You mentioned at the top that I have had civic engagement and I think that where we live, it’s so symbolic of who we are, and I place a lot of value on being an active member of my community. And I love how I see that show up at Mission Partners also. I think it’s a really strong value, and we’re spread out now, right, much more across the country. But I look at things even … and again, this connects back to our B Corp certification, but even the fact that we give the presidential election day as a paid holiday to incentivize folks’ civic participation and to really carve that time, right? "This is all you need to focus on today, is to vote," and not having … I think one of the most common reasons why people don’t vote is because of work, and so not having work be one of the reasons why people don’t vote.

Carrie Fox: Yeah.

Bridget Pooley: And so that’s kind of more on a national level. But when I think about the role of business and community, and again, I think this is not exclusive to, but more reinforced within the B Corp community is how you’re showing up as an active member of your community. You’re part of the solution, right? Whatever challenges are happening in your community, and we know there’s going to be challenges everywhere, that businesses don’t look to governments or to nonprofit organizations or community organizers and say, "That’s your problem." But they’re showing up as part of that. And I think that the Cities CAN B movement, which was borne out of several B Corps, specifically in South America. The Cities CAN B ideas, this idea of this regenerative economy that can be created in a city through all of these partners and the role of business in that I think can’t be understated. And so I see that show up in my work at Mission Partners and my work in the B Corp space, and then in my role as a engaged community member in the Twin City.

Carrie Fox: In the hardest of moments, Bridget, I often find that you’re the one that sees the hopeful light ahead. You’re able to see what could be even in a very dark moment. So as we wrap up today, what’s giving you hope? What are you excited about or looking forward to as you think about our future?

Bridget Pooley: I think about … and I’ll bring it to the B Corp space.

Carrie Fox: I appreciate that.

Bridget Pooley: I’m an optimist. I look at the growth that’s happened just in a short time that we’ve been a B Corp, the community of B Corps have doubled. I look at the national attention that several B Corps are getting, and to me that feels promising, right, that more and more businesses are moving in this direction. The conversation that happened a few years ago around the shift from shareholder to stakeholder priority, I think has maybe been a little bit slower to see executed, but we’re starting to see signaling in that direction and then the growth of the B Corp community, it just feels really promising to me for the future that the more B Corps we can have in this space, the more people who are thinking about this and being measured with this, I think that’s better outcomes for everybody, right? It’s better outcomes for employees. It’s better outcomes for the folks that we get to work with. I think everybody benefits when we stop thinking about profit as the primary motivator and instead think about the impact that we have every day on our world, on the people who we get to work with.

Carrie Fox: Yeah. Gosh, that’s a perfect place to wrap us up, right? B Corp for better outcomes. And as we like to say love over profit. And I appreciate you being such an awesome champion for this movement.

Bridget Pooley: Thank, Carrie.

Carrie Fox: And just like that we are at the end of another episode of Mission Forward. If you heard something that’s going to stick with you, drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know what’s got you thinking. And definitely check out some of our other long form shows on the power of communications. Mission Forward is produced with the support of Sadie Lockhart in association with True Story FM. Engineering by Pete Wright. If your podcast app allows for ratings and reviews I hope you’ll consider doing just that for this show. But the best thing you can do to support Mission Forward is simply to share the show with a friend or a colleague. Thanks for your support and we’ll see you next time.

This season, we are taking you on a journey to meet ten people influencing and shaping how we communicate at scale for social change. From advertising executives to coalition directors, news editors, campaign managers, and authors, they're all people who are shaping and challenging the deep power of communication. If you’re working to become a more inclusive and thoughtful communicator, there’s nothing holding you back—except you.

Carrie Fox

Carrie Fox is the founder and CEO of Mission Partners, a woman-owned strategic communications firm and Certified B Corporation that guides high-potential nonprofits, foundations, and socially responsible corporations in realizing their greatest social impact. Since launching her first firm in 2004, she has guided hundreds of organizations around the world to lead with purpose, fueling organizations and their missions forward in new and more impactful ways.