You don't have to be in the not-for-profit sector to help change the world. Companies are now building social change objectives into their business plans - and often building powerful brands in the process. But why do some organizations succeed in driving change while others fail? How do you distinguish your sincere efforts from those waving a social responsibility banner merely as a clever marketing ploy?

If you're serious about driving positive change, think about how your organization can stay true to its mission. It makes little sense to take on a cause where you have limited knowledge or connection. Firms with the deepest-held values tend to align their social change initiatives with their own product category and core competencies.

Take Ben and Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream for example. With their focus on children and families, it shouldn't come as a surprise that they've created Priority Pie, a project that lobbies for more government spending directed toward children. And because quality ice cream depends on sustainable agriculture, it makes sense that they would support small-scale family farms and help prevent milk from cloned animals from entering the food supply. Because their social objectives are so intertwined with their purpose, their involvement is authentic and motivating.

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A clear vision is essential to drive change. With so many social interests vying for attention and money, only those that can inspire will cut through the clutter. But vision is only the starting point. There are a number of best practices that will help you avoid the pitfalls and embrace the opportunities.

Don't go it alone

Even market leaders ally themselves with partner organizations committed to achieving similar goals. A great example is the Conservation Alliance, an organization that has recruited a solid membership including competitors Patagonia, The North Face, REI and MEC to support their grassroots campaign to conserve wilderness spaces. The Body Shop, a company built on its environmental commitment, also recognizes the power of partnership and actively supports groups at the forefront of social and environmental change, including organizations with little hope of conventional funding.

Educate and empower

Oprah Winfrey, the new queen of soul, focuses on three causes: women, children and education. "When you educate a woman, you set her free," says Oprah, who spent her early years in a house without electricity or running water. "Had I not had books and education in Mississippi, I would have believed that's all there was."

Oprah's Angel Network's mission is "to inspire individuals to create opportunities that enable underserved women and children to rise to their potential." By recruiting vast numbers of other people to her cause and encouraging each of them to recruit many more, Oprah has exponentially increased her global impact.

Believe in the

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power of business

If business - with its reach to millions of consumers and its influence with government - can't make a difference, then who can? The key to really making the world a better place is to put self-interest aside. Another innovative example of business collaboration is RED, an organization that teams up with the world's most iconic brands to raise money for women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Use storytelling to bring

vibrancy to your message

Oprah uses stories of her struggles and achievements to bring her message to life. "I bring all my stuff with me," she says. And by making herself and her struggles central to her vision for social change, she taps deeply into the American psyche and its desire for self-reliance.

Lead by example

Any fledgling environmentalist devastated by the news of Al Gore's $30,000 utility bill will attest to the importance of walking the talk. The lesson? There is no faster way to undermine your positive deeds than to be seen as inconsistent. On the other hand, there is no more powerful way to influence people than by living your commitments and demonstrating what is possible.

Make it real, relevant

and make it personal

Having pointed out Al Gore's shortcomings, it's only fair to point to his enormous contributions. Through The Inconvenient Truth and his "Me & We" logo, he tells people very clearly what they can do to help. As a result, people throughout the world are now taking action. The Conservation Alliance also has a compelling message: "30 million people. One hour a week. Make it happen." When these rallying cries resonate with people, true social change can begin to take place.