Lani Evans: The future is social
OPINION: More and more social enterprises are launching in New Zealand, and Thankyou Payroll is one of them.
Launched seven years ago, this Dunedin and Wellington based payroll intermediary bakes social impact into every layer of their business. Who knew that payroll could be so social?
We believe that business can be a force for good, producing goods and services wrapped up in genuine strategies for community contribution.
Government, business and non-profit organisations can often operate in silos, focused on outcomes within a very specific set of parameters.
Social enterprises can move across those silos and focus on people, profit and the planet. We can also ensure every layer of a business has impact, even a payroll tech company like us.
As is typical in business, our contributions to our clients and the government are the easiest to quantify. We provide clear benefits to the IRD by ensuring tax payments are accurate.
For businesses, our product is designed for simplicity of use and our business model means it's free, or very, very cheap for our clients. We currently have more than 4,300 clients, annual revenue of over $1million, and we're growing organically.
With that many clients, you need a great team to support them. We often get told how great our support team are.
But to get great staff, you need great HR. HR is often sidelined in the startup world as founders focus on the mad scramble for viability, but for us, valuing staff was always a priority — you can't create positive external change, without creating a positive culture within.
All of our staff earn over the living wage, receive five weeks of paid holidays per year and have access to human centred policies like mental health leave and domestic violence leave.
We also have diversity at every level of our company.
Sixty per cent of our board identify as women and our CEO is a woman, which is definitely not the norm in the tech sector. Growth companies, like UBER and Thinx, are facing the backlash of bad management and declining diversity that is causing customers to boycott their products.
For the planet, we calculate our carbon emissions and offset them by planting native trees with community partners in the beautiful Port Chalmers, Dunedin.
We've planted 470 trees in the last two years, and have recently engaged a Wellington based company to help us design an improved carbon footprinting tool across our whole business.
For the wider community, we put 25c of revenue from every pay processed into our charitable trust.
Over the last seven years we've donated more than $80,000 in cash and $325,000 in-kind. Our trust aims to support communities to grow their resilience, connectedness and wellbeing. We give out grants ranging from $100 to $3000, and our structure is unique in two ways.
Firstly, our accountability process is a potluck dinner. Every grant round the recipients come to a "bring a plate" meal where half of the attendees have received a grant, and half are from the local community.
Over dinner, the recipients talk about how the grant made a difference for them. We don't want organisations to dedicate time to reporting; instead, accountability is informal and personal, including their community and their peers.
We reckon that healthy relationships play a role in social impact and this accountability model helps community leaders to meet and to hear about each others projects and ideas. We hope this will contribute to greater communication, peer-support, and more collaboration.
Our second point of difference is our "Pay-It-Forward" funding model. Successful applicants of the previous round decide who receives the next round of local grant recipients.
We think this creates greater connection and provides a space for them to meet and collaborate. We also want to support the knowledge that is within communities. Who understands the need of a local community better than the people who are actively working for its betterment?
We want to break down the distinction between fund giver and fund receiver by role modeling high-trust relationships with community organisations, handing over power and using more devolved, user-centric decision making processes.
We see this as an opportunity for growing connection, leadership and to simply provide funding for good things to happen.
I believe the social good elements of Thankyou Payroll are a part of what makes us successful.
In seven years, we've done almost no paid for advertising and had no sales staff.
Our growth has been organic and word of mouth — because we have a good product and great ethics. But now we've gone out to our community, to invest in our future growth through equity crowdfunding.
We want a future in which the businesses that succeed are the ones that can demonstrate the most benefit to not just their clients but also to our communities.
If a tech company in a traditionally boring sector can make a positive impact on people, planet and profit, why can't all companies?
Lani Evans was the first CEO of Thankyou Payroll, and helped set up the participatory grant model outlined. She was a Winston Churchill fellowship recipient, travelling the world researching new ways of grant giving.
She is currently on the board of Thankyou Payroll, and the Chair of Thankyou Charitable Trust. Thankyou Payroll is equity crowdfunding to grow through PledgeMe: pldg.me/thankyou