By Agata Antonow and Lizzie Vance
Imagine this. It’s a warm May Atlanta night, and you’re standing outside Grace Midtown, a church topped with a big white dome. In front of you is a parking lot shining with cars. A man in a red T-shirt passes by with sliders from Arby’s, tilting the tray so you can take one. A woman in a long-sleeved shirt walks up with her own tray.
“Beer? Wine? I can get you a soft drink, too, if you like.”
You’re not at a wedding or a confirmation or a church social. Close. This is a celebration, but a celebration of what business can do. This is one of the regular events hosted by the Conscious Capitalism Atlanta chapter. Today, two speakers will be talking about Higher Purpose, and before and after they speak, entrepreneurs and company owners from all over Atlanta will have their own discussions, spilling out over the grass lawn and the concrete parking lot with fries and beer, sharing ideas and their passion for doing good in the world with business.
Conscious Capitalism Atlanta chapter has been holding these events regularly, and it has been able to draw big speakers such as Jay Gould, Joey Reiman, John Mackey, and others and to pack in big crowds at both casual events and more formal speaking engagements. The secret of their success may just come down to the new chapter model Conscious Capitalism rolled out in 2017.
“How do we make the greatest impact and support people the right way? That’s the first question. After that, everything else will follow,” Alexander McCobin, CEO of Conscious Capitalism, Inc. (CCI), says about this model. From its inception in 2010 as Conscious Capitalism, Inc., CCI had big goals. The organization wanted to bring their message to the world, and that meant reaching people on the ground so they could help make changes in their own communities and beyond.
Specifically, CCI wanted to reach people like Curtis Hite. Curtis knew he wanted to be part of a movement dedicated to pursuing business as a force for good and profit. It’s a response Miki Agrawal, Vinny Tafuro, Chris Hooper, Greg Massey, and others in the movement experience, too. From all corners of the globe, entrepreneurs and business owners are brought together by the principles of Stakeholder Orientation, Conscious Leadership, Higher Purpose, and Conscious Culture. Trying to get the message to local businesses isn’t always easy, though.
The original chapter model, created to answer a request from individuals in Australia for a model in 2012, was designed to get businesses and individuals taking part in Conscious Capitalism activities locally and in spreading the message. The original structure, a licensing model, allowed local chapters to use the Conscious Capitalism name and resources but kept them as independent corporations, legally separate from CCI. Some early chapters organized this way became successful, but there were pain points, too.
Alexander notes that the early chapter model was “very ad hoc and very segmented, where individuals would basically say they wanted to start a chapter, [then] they would license the name Conscious Capitalism from us and for a while didn’t receive any support even though they were paying dues and using the name.” Vinny Tafuro, founder as well as president and CEO of the Conscious Capitalism Florida chapter, has seen both sides of the coin. His chapter was started in 2013 using the legacy model and has made the transition to a staff-supported model. While the legacy model worked for Florida, it did not bring “a lot of tangible support with it,” and for the Florida chapter, switching to the staff-supported model has meant a greater focus on the companies who are working for a Higher Purpose but who still “work in their own silos.”
Under the licensing model, chapters had to organize themselves, which complicated things. There were reams of paperwork and complex legal considerations. Some entrepreneurs, inspired by a Conscious Capitalism event or conference, backed away and didn’t even start the process when faced with the registration process. Alexander McCobin knew that change was needed, and that led him to ask a basic question: “How do we go back to fundamentals?” He realized it was about offering support and “removing siloing” so chapters could do what they were really called to do: organize events and connect with business leaders. And that meant the old model of encouraging people to create separate organizations had to go.
The staff-supported model represents a fundamental shift in how chapters are organized. Instead of being separate entities, chapters organized this way are 501c3 structures, extensions of CCI. Instead of allowing chapters to work on their own, CCI offers a more collaborative approach, offering accounts, resources, and regular contact to get off the ground. CCI even offers a chapter coordinator—a contracted staff member—to help the local chapter organize activities.
Chris Hooper, cofounder of the Atlanta chapter, started the process under the legacy model. When he got a chance to switch to the staff-supported model when it was introduced in 2017, he jumped at the opportunity. According to Chris, this shift allowed the chapter to quickly dive into the meat of what a chapter is supposed to be about: organizing events. Just one year after starting, his chapter has averaged one event each month and even two some months. And instead of trying to find like-minded businesses, businesses and entrepreneurs are finding them. As Chris puts it, not having to deal with “bank accounts, lawyers, and paperwork” and “fiduciary responsibility” has allowed his chapter to focus on what really matters. “We’re part of CCI,” he explains. “We’re probably closer to CCI than a free-standing chapter might be.” And that means when they need support, CCI is right there. Curtis Hite echoes that sentiment, pointing out that the chapter has been able to double the number of presentations because they have been able to focus on drawing speakers and organizing events.
For Alexander McCobin, the decision to change the model structure was both necessary and something of a leap of faith. As much as CCI changed how chapters are established and how they function, the new chapter model also changed CCI. As Alexander puts it, the change to a staff-supported chapter model required a “shift at two levels.” First, there was the “big mindset shift” from allowing chapters to do whatever they want to keeping chapters connected to each other and CCI. With that change came increased liability and risk as the chapters were no longer separate, and the change was scary. Then there was the need to scale up to offer the support chapters would need under the new collaborative approach. CCI needed to hire more people and to allocate more resources to ensure support was in place for each chapter.
The shift at CCI was ultimately freeing for chapters. Alexander defines it in terms of shifting the focus so chapters could do what they were meant to do: “When local business leaders want to bring Conscious Capitalism to their area, we are actively working with them to fundraise, generate initial interest, and then actively hire someone who can take care of the administrative work on the ground for them. [There’s] financial support from both the local community and CCI to help organize events, identify more Conscious Capitalists, launch new projects, and generally take care of all those administrative things so that local business leaders are able to focus on building the understanding of Conscious Capitalism.”
For Vinny Tafuro, being able to introduce his Florida chapter as part of the larger CCI means the message “resonates very well” with businesses who are reassured to see a local chapter backed fully by an “international organization with solid infrastructure.” For Amanda Bogorad, chapter coordinator in Columbus, Ohio, the staff-supported model has meant more collaboration and intentionality and better allocation of resources. With the chapter model, she explains, “there’s a lot of intentionality with everything we’re doing. There’s a bigger strategy, there’s a bigger idea about what the chapter is going to do.” She’s able to work closely with board members to establish regular events, with a different board member being responsible for the monthly happy hour at her chapter. With the current model, the supports are in place to allow each board member to focus on their best skills, and the support also allows them to build a consistent message: “All chapter coordinators have a lead at the CCI level, and he’s just awesome at making sure we’re all executing the same kind of strategy, that we’re all expanding the message within the communities, and I think the biggest thing is being able to share information with CCI.” Amanda loves being able to travel to different cities and know she’s going to have the “same type of community.” She looks forward to the weekly talks with other chapters, where she gets a chance to learn about events across the country and learn about best practices.
Is this easy? Alexander McCobin responds with a laugh and says, “The only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper,” repeating a quote attributed to Mark Twain but known widely in the community as something Alexander’s former co-CEO, Doug Rauch, often said. Is it bearing fruit in spite of being difficult? Yes.
When business leaders first hear about Conscious Capitalism, it’s an exciting prospect, as the decision to found a chapter comes from passion. For those who are entrepreneurs or just new to the business world, going through the process of setting up a separate entity can be intimidating. And that’s not what CCI wants chapters to be about. They’re not supposed to be about boards and creating bylaws and registering with the state. Conscious Capitalism is, at heart, about people and about connecting. It’s about making a difference through business and using capitalism for its highest good. By letting local chapters start focusing on this mission immediately, CCI is inviting more would-be chapters into the fold and is allowing chapter founders to start focusing on inspiration, collaboration, education, and events right out of the gate. As Vinny Tafuro of the Florida chapter puts it, “If we’re going to win the fight and make business a force for good and elevate humanity, then we have to work together, and that’s what this is about.”
Want to know more about the Conscious Capitalism Chapters? Click here!