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How Panera Bread is Revolutionizing Philanthropy

Today's corporate leaders no longer want to simply write a check or donate their products when it comes to CSR. Instead they are looking more and more to leverage their company's specific resources and skill set in the non profit sector to effect measurable, positive change in our communities. If executed correctly, these programs can demonstrate an unprecedented amount of leadership, compassion and forethought on behalf of the sponsor.

One such program that has enjoyed an enormous amount of success in this field is Panera Bread's Panera Cares program spearheaded by the company's CEO Ron Shaich. Spurred by the notion that our corporations have a greater responsibility to society than mere donations, Ron set out to challenge the basic model his restaurants had followed. He sought to create Panera Cares store locations dedicated to alleviating the "food insecurity" that plagues many of our communities. His new model: A community café without prices, that feeds its patrons on a pay what you can basis, leaving the success or faluire of the venture entirely in the public's hands.

In a press release issued coinciding with the launch of the first location Ron outlines his vision:

"Panera Cares is a new kind of cafe – one that exemplifies an entirely different way of giving back. It is a community cafe of shared responsibility. One of the goals of this charitable program is to ensure that everyone who needs a meal gets one. People are encouraged to take what they need and donate their fair share. There are no prices or cash registers, only suggested donation levels and donation bins. The vision for the Panera Cares cafe was to use Panera's unique restaurant skills to address real societal needs and make a direct impact in communities. Thus, the [Panera] Foundation developed these community cafes to make a difference by addressing the food insecurity issues that affect millions of Americans."

Any business man will tell you this model is ludicrous; the equivalent of commercial suicide. But where others saw certain failure, Ron Shaich saw an opportunity to prove the basic altruism of our society. In his keynote at SB'11, beaming with pride, Ron announced that one year after the first Panera Cares cafe opened in Clayton, MO, that about 20% of customers leave more money than the suggested donation with no pressure, and 20% pay less with the remaining 60% paying the suggested amount. With the overwhelming success of the program comes a pledge from Ron to continue to open Panera Cares locations at the rate of one per quarter, hopefully making a large dent in food insecurity wherever they are.

Image via msnbc.com

A revolution is taking place as our largest corporations begin to recognize a shift in public demand away from traditional, bottom line business practices, to model which instead seeks to enrich our world. As we reset our expectations going forward, the ability of brand leaders to design and deliver a "better brand" –one which respects and delights all stakeholders in this, and future generations – will be fundamental to organizational and economic success.

Join the Revolution as brands take center stage to share how they are driving change towards a sustainable future. Registration is now open for SB'12: The Revolution will be Branded. Meet other sustainability analysts, brand strategists, and design innovators June 4-7 in San Diego and learn how to activate your brand as a platform for purpose.

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