2 December 2015
Yesterday I launched Stonemaier Games’ annual charity auction, which is on pace to raise about $4,000 for 10 different charities.
On the same day, I turned down two requests from very nice bloggers who asked me to contribute something to their charity giveaway.
Why give to some and not to others? Why should a for-profit business like Stonemaier Games give to charity at all? These questions are on my mind today, so I thought I’d talk (ramble) about it to see if I can make sense of it.
I have several guiding philosophies for running my business, like “backers come first” and “make it about them.” But hand-in-hand with those philosophies (and sometimes overarching them) is that Stonemaier Games remain profitable. If we’re not profitable, we can’t stay in business. If we don’t stay in business, I won’t have backers to put first and I won’t have other people to make things for.
So every decision I make is based on some kind of positive ROI (return on investment). The prices of our games are based on ROI. Our international partnerships and convention support methods (play and win) are based on ROI. The copies of games I send to reviewers are based on ROI–that’s why there’s a huge difference between a reviewer with 100 followers and a reviewer with 1000 followers.
That brings us to charitable giving, which is a bit of an enigma. I’ve seen no data supporting the idea that giving money or games to a charitable giveaway has an kind of positive ROI. We’re giving away a free thing to someone who might have otherwise bought it. Sure, there’s exposure and goodwill, but do those really add up to anything? The next time you decide to buy a game, do you ever make that decision based on seeing that a company
Note that I’m not saying that companies shouldn’t contribute games to charity giveaways. Though I do think it’s a little dangerous to ever give away something for free. The psychology of free doesn’t exactly encourage consumers to spend money. I think auctions are a better way to go, like the annual Jack Vasel Memorial auction. We do contribute to that one, but it’s a rare exception.
BUT–here’s the big but–I’m still driven to give to charity, personally and professionally. It feels like the right thing to do. My company exists because of the generosity of others, and I’m very fortunate. It simply feels right to give back somehow, even if there isn’t an ROI.
So here’s how I wrapped my mind around the idea of charitable giving being good for business a few years ago: Instead of thinking about ROI for Stonemaier Games, I decided to shift the ROI to a key part of the backbone of the gaming industry: bloggers, podcasters, and video reviewers.
The way our annual charity auction works is that we put 10 rare, premium items up for auction (this year it’s the Viticulture/Tuscany Collector’s Edition). We associate each of those items with a different blog, podcast, or video channel we love (with their permission).
We don’t ask those content creators to advertise the auction at all–all they have to do is each pick a charity, and we do the rest. The auction is just as much about the charities as it is to bring new audiences to these amazing content creators.
So it’s a little different type of ROI. It’s not profitable at all for Stonemaier Games–we’re auctioning games that we could sell for about $200 each, and we’re paying for worldwide shipping out of our own shipping. Sure, we get a slight tax break for charitable giving, but it’s minimal. This isn’t about our bottom line. Rather, it’s about giving back to the less fortunate and to the amazing content creators who making the gaming community so vibrant.
Also, it helps us draw a line. There are always going to be plenty of people and organizations who ask us to contribute to their cause. Going back to the idea of staying profitable, we can’t say yes to all of them. There are too many. But I can say no to those people and still sleep well at night knowing that we’re already doing something big and good.
This isn’t a lesson. I’m not telling you that what we do is right and what you do (or don’t do) is wrong. Honestly, I just wanted to sort out my thoughts on this topic and hopefully add some value to the way you think about running a business, ROI, and charitable giving. How do you feel about this?