Pricing for purpose

Pricing for purpose

Imagine allowing customers to pay whatever amount they want for your products or services. Sounds like a recipe for getting fleeced into bankruptcy, right? Yet, data from companies that use such Pay What You Want (PWYW) pricing suggests that, typically, people are not greedy jerks. Most of the time, most people will treat others fairly (see chapter 12 of Do Good at Work). Done well then, PWYW is a feasible method for allowing those who are financially stressed to benefit from your products or services. This, in turn, is a way to contribute to others or to societal causes through work, to do what I’ve termed job purposing.

One company that uses PWYW is Humble Bundle, a digital storefront that sells curated sets of video games, music files, e-books and other electronic products. I’m especially fond of this brand because it amplifies PWYW’s positive impact by donating more than 10 percent of sales to charity. Their model appears to be sustainable. Humble Bundle has been around more than a decade and has donated over $200 million to hundreds of charities, including American Red Cross, Charity: water, the NAACP and the Wikimedia Foundation.

A less risky way to job purpose via pricing is to invite customers experiencing hardship to request more favorable terms. The music composer (and my husband) Douglas Morton, for example, invites individuals who are under-employed, stricken by a personal crisis or otherwise experiencing financial difficulties to “offer what you can,” “pay later” or even “pay with avocados.” A very small percentage of customers make a request, but Doug relishes helping each of them. The commonplace practice of allowing customers to round up for charity, as Lyft and Taco Bell do, is yet another way to job purpose using pricing.

In short, pricing is a versatile and effective way to job purpose. Might it allow you to nudge the world toward greater justice?

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