Queen of Pro Bono – An Interview with Good360 Founder Alison Covington

Published on powerretail.com.au May 2nd 2016.

In March last year, Good360 — a not-for-profit organisation that helps get retailers’ unsellable inventory in the hands of charities — launched in Australia. Spearheaded by the indefatigable efforts of Founder and Managing Director, Alison Covington, Good360 Australia has gone through just over a year of testing and is now ready to expand and partner with more Australian brands, retailers, manufacturers and charities.

 

Power Retail caught up with Covington to find out more about what makes this amazing organisation tick, how Covington is bringing a start-up business model to the not-for-profit sector, and how retailers can get involved.

Founder and Managing Director of Good 360 Australia, Alison Covington.

Founder and Managing Director of Good360 Australia, Alison Covington.

 

Good360 is essentially a marketplace to which brands, retailers and manufacturers can donate unsold or unsellable goods. Registered charities or not-for-profits can then order these goods through the Good360 website and have them delivered.

 

Good360 had been operating in the US for around 30 years when Covington discovered it. In Good360, Covington saw an organisation that was doing more than just redistributing food to the disadvantaged.

 

“In Australia, we already had organisations likeSecond Bite, Oz Harvest and Foodbank getting food to charities. But for disadvantaged people, if you feed them and push them back out on the street, you’re not really solving their problem,” said Covington.

 

That’s where Good360 came in. “In the US, they’d been providing other necessary items to the disadvantaged and also solving businesses’ problems.”

 

As well as providing a marketplace for charities and not-for-profits to access the products they need, Good360 also provides businesses with a solution to their excess inventory problem.

 

“No retailer can have a perfect inventory solution,” said Covington. “Nobody sells through 100 percent of their inventory.”

 

Businesses with excess inventory, end-of-line or -season inventory, incorrectly packaged inventory — any product that is still fit for use but for whatever reason can no longer be sold — can contact Good360. Whether it’s a few boxes or several container loads, Good360 will organise to pick up the products, store it in their warehouses, before organising delivery of the product to the charity that requests it.

 

Start-up mindset

Listening to Covington talk about Good360, it becomes clear that she has brought a start-up mentality into establishing the organisation in Australia. As the former director of public transports for Connex and Veolia, Covington was able to bring a logistical mind and international business experience into her not-for-profit endeavours.

 

“I was working for a French company who came to Australia and wanted to buy up significant parts of the public transport system. That enabled me to see opportunities that other people didn’t see. And that’s what happened with Good360. I saw that opportunity and I couldn’t see why is wasn’t happening in Australia.”

 

But it wasn’t just the space in the market that attracted her. As a fledgling online retail entrepreneur, Covington had taught herself to build Magento websites, which became particularly pertinent when she reached out to Good360 in the US and found that Bob Schwartz — former president of Magento — was on the board. Having a technology entrepreneur like Schwartz on the board meant that the company was already more forward-thinking tech-wise than most charities.

 

“They were actually taking technology on, which is unusual in the charity sector,” said Covington.

 

It was at this point that the stars aligned for Covington and Good360. Her experience negotiating international contracts and building Magento websites and her knowledge of retail and supply chain pain points, as well as the gap in the Australian market, meant the time was right to approach Good360 in the US and float Australia as the first international test market.

 

“The US model has a lot of legacy hanging over it, so they were actually quite excited for us because we were going to be much more nimble,” said Covington. “They’ve got things they can’t do, so they’re really interested to see where we can take it.”

 

With Good360 now firmly established in Australia — it is currently partnered with about 40 retailers and 500 charities — the name of the game is expansion and customer acquisition.

 

“The first 12 months was our learning phase — testing our systems and processes — and we’re now ready to go into more of an expansion phase like all start-ups. It’s all about customer acquisition now.

 

“We currently have about 500 charities using our system, but there are over 60,000 charities in Australia who would be eligible to use our system. So we’re going out with a media campaign to raise brand awareness, to say we’re ready for more charities to come use our system and more businesses to come on board as well,” said Covington.

 

The group is currently working to increase its visibility through media activity. They have recently landed placements with oOh!Media for an outdoor campaign and with Austereo for a radio campaign.

 

The group has also done a complete refresh of their branding.

“The American branding concept that we brought to Australia didn’t have the right tone of voice, so we’ve come out with a new look and feel, which is more appropriate for the Australian marketplace.”

 

It was this new branding that helped the group land the oOh!Media placement. But the new branding and media campaign is just the tip of the iceberg.

 

“We might be a charity, but like other e-commerce platforms we’re always looking for best practice in e-commerce.”

 

Collaborative philanthropy

For Good360, collaborative philanthropy is the name of the game. Covington has a goal of getting $1 billion worth of goods to two million Australians in need, but getting that done requires help.

 

“Finding a billion dollars worth of cash through donations — that’s really difficult. But if you say we’re going to redistribute all this product that’s laying idle, it’s really quite achievable, and it makes a significant difference to people’s lives.”

 

And that’s what is at the heart of Good360’s mission. It’s not just about getting useful goods to people in need; it’s about providing a simple solution for businesses’ excess inventory as well as providing a more collaborative and interactive way for businesses to give back to the community. It’s about shared value and shared knowledge.

 

“I always say I’m the queen of pro bono,” said Covington.

 

“Every time I pitch to a business I tell them it’s more than just wanting your cash or product. We actually want to integrate into their business.”

Good360 is currently working with Temando as their logistics partner, and with Balance Internetas their IT development partner. Rather than just signing cheques over to charities, companies like Temando and Balance Internet are providing their staff, their systems and their expertise to help build out Good360.

 

This process of collaborative philanthropy allows partnered companies to leverage their expertise for the good of Good360, its charity partners, and ultimately Australia’s disadvantaged people. This enables the staff from those companies to use their professional skills for a charitable purpose.

 

Customers of these companies can also see a clearer alignment between the partnered company and the not-for-profit, and this is important. With the growth of ethical consumerism, people are increasingly keen to buy from companies and brands that can be seen to be giving something back to the community.

 

However, Australia’s philanthropic culture means that it’s not always easy to convey the message of your good deeds to your customers.

 

“There is a culture of more open giving in the US, so they talk about their giving more openly than we do in Australia,” said Covington. “Australians are very generous and there should be more talk about how generous they are.”

 

This is a significant aspect of Good360’s shared value with its retailer and brand partners. Rather than a company spruiking its own charitable deeds, Good360 will work to circulate the story through in-house content writing and media partners.

 

“We talk about how good a brand is and the brand’s not seen to be talking about itself. Through our model we put up the impact stories and the charity talks about how this brand made this contribution to the community. This gets shared on social media and our website, and the brand gets that recognition in the tone of the charity,” said Covington. “We give the platform for people and businesses to be acknowledged.”

 

Covington told stories of Temando CEO Carl Hartmann making a personal donation of $25,000,Woolworths donating $3 million worth of goods, and Lush and Shoes of Prey making donations to underprivileged high school girls.

 

And it’s not just the consumer public that can see the results. The retailers and brands can see exactly where their products are being distributed, hear the stories and see the specific lives they’ve affected with their donations.

 

Australia then the world

Covington’s work with Good360 Australia is the first step in internationalising the organisation. If the group can prove itself in Australia, it will look to roll out into other countries.

 

“We’re using this as the test case to see how we go taking it into another country. We want to take what we’ve learned and look to roll it out in other countries. There is a goal to make it an international program,” said Covington.

 

But that may still be a way off.

 

“It takes a really passionate person on the ground. So to go overseas you’d need someone that has contacts and networks to actually make it happen. We’d have to give them the package and say this is what it’s going to take to do it, and we’d have to scope out the climate and the environment for that particular country. But it does take a relentless driving force and it has been exhausting.”

 

Get involved

Good360 is currently looking for partners and mentors from across the e-commerce industry. The group is also looking to grow its partner network of retailers, brands and manufacturers. If you’d like to get involved with Good360 or you’d like to know more, please visit the website.

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