Research Corner

Impacts and Best Practices for One For One Giving


Popularized by TOMS Shoes, the one-for-one giving model is hot. There’s a beauty to its simplicity—your purchase doubles as a gift to someone in need. Buy a pair of shoes, give a pair of shoes. Buy eyeglasses, give eyeglasses. Although the model’s premise is simple, the implications are complex.

The one-for-one model has earned its share of both praise and criticism in recent years. What are the social and economic impacts of this kind of giving? How effective is it in reaching those most in need? Is it addressing the root causes of social problems, or simply bandaging their symptoms? Is giving trips different and better than giving material goods, such as backpacks?

As a collective, it’s our responsibility to find out. We’ve come together to research the model, to share our own best practices for how to go about delivering these trips in the most positive way possible, and to track the outcomes of our charitable trips over time.

Knowledge Bank

Inside the Buy-One-Give-One Model 

By Christopher Marquis & Andrew Park
Stanford Social Innovation Review

In this insightful investigation, researchers interviewed over 30 entrepreneurs and leaders of businesses with one-for-one models across a huge variety of industries and segments. Their findings are, for the most part, positive and encouraging.

“We believe that the buy-one give-one model is not only a viable way to create both commercial and social value but also a model of social entrepreneurship that is likely to increase in prevalence and power. Trends in consumer behavior, particularly in the millennial generation, which puts a high value on social issues, along with the model’s simple yet effective marketing message, provide a way for companies to leverage their core competencies for a social cause.”

The One-for-one Business Model: Avoiding Unintended Consequences

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

This piece examines the two most common critiques of the one-for-one giving model. The first is that it addresses the symptoms rather than the roots of poverty, and the second is that an economy of gifting creates dependency while taking business from local producers. The conclusion is a call for more experimentation and research.

We have seen a lot of innovation and experimentation with these [one-for-one] models. That’s great, because it’s not clear which approaches have the greatest sustainability and impact. Which models inspire the greatest buying and thus the greatest giving? And which models have the greatest impact? We’ll need time, experimentation, and rigorous research to answer these questions rigorously.”

Beyond Good Intentions: Tweaking the Buy One, Give One Model

By Hannah Ritchie
Sustainable Brands

Also offering a critique of the one-for-one model, this article offers suggestions and examples of how to adapt and improve the giving scheme based on outcomes and unforeseen consequences, both positive and negative. Specifically, Ritchie mentions capacity-building instead of simply handing out goods, as well as charging recipients a nominal fee as a signal of their dignity.

“To make a sustained, long-term contribution to poverty alleviation, these approaches must focus on the capacity-building aspect of their beneficiaries. Resource provision must be provided in a way that helps to build a local capacity and infrastructure for communities to source and generate goods independently of external donations.”