A Force For Good

For Sandie Tillotson, Network Marketing Is an Opportunity to Change the World

By John David Mann


What makes a distributor decide, on the heels of a successful experience in the field, to go into business for him- or herself and create a network marketing company from scratch? Whatever the impulse, it is one of the most well-known and ill-regarded recipes for disaster in network marketing circles. The tangle of roads leading to network marketing failure are littered with the bones of entrepreneurial good intentions, many of them ill-fated companies started by distributors with stars in their eyes and little appreciation of the immense challenges involved in getting a successful "home office" corporation up and running.

Nevertheless, having seen some success in a diet product distributorship, Sandie Tillotson decided to give it a shot. Twenty years ago, Sandie and a friend, Blake Roney, bucked the odds--and succeeded where so many had failed.

One of the key elements in their recipe for success was identifying and committing to the heart of the business.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Sitting around the living room talking about what they would do when the network marketing company they wanted to start really worked out--not "if," she emphasizes, when--Sandie and Blake were having fun dreaming big.

"We'd say things like, 'We're going to build a high-rise building for our headquarters and distributors all over the world,' and we'd laugh. But you have to be able to dream big before you can create big. I tell my kids, 'Be careful what you wish for!'"

As they visualized, asking themselves what they'd do with this vision as it became real, the answer came readily and irrevocably.

"From the first moment, we knew we wanted to create a force for good in the world. A lofty goal, perhaps, but that's what we wanted."

Those dreams became real indeed--and have paid handsome dividends for needy children throughout the world. In 1996, a decade and a half later, that early vision now a near-billion-dollar network marketing giant, Sandie and Blake and their colleagues formally created an official channel for their philanthropic efforts: the Force for Good Foundation was born.

A Global Force For Good

The Foundation's mission statement is "to create a better world for children by improving human life, continuing indigenous cultures, and protecting fragile environments." Every one of the dozens of projects around the world the Foundation supports is directly related to at least one of these three objectives.

A child with Epidermolysis Bullosa, a terminal disease for which the Foundation is helping to find a cure.
"Our company has a presence in 35 international markets," explains Sandie, "and in each of these we encourage our distributors to get involved in community projects; in some cases we support those projects through the Foundation as well."

For example, distributors and corporate officers in Thailand have been supporting a pediatric cardiac hospital there; impressed with how much they've raised, the Foundation has now promised a matching fund. Distributors get involved by donating time and money to the Foundation; the company pays 100 percent of the Foundation's operating expenses.

"In the years before we created the Foundation, we were doing these things but in a less organized way," recalls Sandie. "Distributors would be working with different projects in various markets and we would support them with corporate dollars. In 1996, we introduced a new product line, and decided to donate 25 cents from each individual product we sold from this line--with no ceiling, by the way, no 'up to three million dollars' or fine print. If distributors sell more of that product, we donate more--period."

That ingenious funding channel became the force that established the Force for Good Foundation, but there are many other financial tributaries streaming into the Foundation's coffers as well. Many of the company's distributors also make contributions, some quite substantially.

"We hold a Force For Good Foundation dinner for distributors at our conventions, along with a silent auction and live auctions. It's fascinating to watch people from all over the world bidding against each other! Last time we held that event, we raised close to $600,000."

A Diversity of Good Works

Just as network marketing achieves success through "a lot of people, each doing a little," the Foundation believes in channeling its resources into dozens of grassroots efforts.

"We like to work with smaller projects where $10,000 can make a big difference. Take a small orphanage, something that might fall below the radar of the bigger charitable organizations: for a place like this, a $10,000 gift may keep its doors open for an entire year."

There are an extraordinary number of such projects, says Sandie; with its grassroots, distributor-based nervous system, the Foundation is both small enough and well enough attuned to learn about them and support them.

The Foundation also makes substantial contributions to Seacology, a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of islands in their every aspect, both natural environment and human culture. Seacology's motto is, "Saving the world, one island village at a time."

Then there is the Foundation's pet cause: finding a cure for Epidermolysis Bullosa.

Say what? That's Epidermolysis Bullosa, and if you've never heard of it, you're not alone.

"In the same way that smaller projects are often overlooked by larger funding organizations," says Sandie, "Epidermolysis Bullosa is a disease that was clearly never going to get the same kind of attention as cancer, diabetes or heart disease." The Force for Good Foundation made it one of its banner causes.

"This is a terminal genetic skin disease," explains Sandie, "but there was little progress towards a cure, because it is so rare. When a distributor writes a $40,000 check, it's incredibly gratifying to see just how far that can go in a context such as this."

The Foundation built a school of dermatological research at Stanford and supports the Stanford research for the disease.

"They're very close to a cure now," says Sandie; "the physicians working on it have told us that without our participation, this would not have been a reality."

The Heart of the Profession

Have there been times, we wonder, when Sandie's felt pressure from the demands of the business to back off a bit? Has she had to fight to keep the dream going?

"Yes," she laughs, "and more so when we became a publicly held company. But this is what makes our company special; to me, we really can't compromise on this. If we did, we'd be giving up the heart of what we're all about."

Indeed, says Sandie, this is the heart of the network marketing profession itself.

"There are quite a few network marketing companies that have larger amounts of money flowing through them than some countries' national product! It becomes a moral obligation for corporations such as ours to rise up and support causes they believe in."

Sandie makes another fascinating point: people donate money and food all the time without realizing what a problem distribution is--a problem network marketers are uniquely qualified to address.

"There are lots of generous people; actually getting the food to the people who need it is the difficult part. Even for such organizations as the Red Cross, end-point distribution is a challenge--and because we have a presence in so many countries, we can help do that. That's what we do!"

It occurs to us that a well-run network marketing enterprise may be the best model for grassroots, end-point distribution for a philanthropic cause of any organization on the earth. Sandie laughs and agrees.

"The truth is, what we all do could translate into value for so many businesses in so many ways, it's amazing. Take banking: with our international compensation plan, we're basically one global currency. This business model has so much to offer the world."

Seacology: Maui Deer Exclosure Ceremony; Madagascare villagers training to be guides for Mt. Angavokely; a Nadogo Chief.

A Reason to Succeed

In addition to all the people around the world whose lives their efforts touch, Sandie sees some of the most powerful benefits coming back to the distributors.

"It gives them a sense of community, of purpose...of connection. People traditionally go to church for these things, but churches aren't as popular today as they once were. Everyone needs spiritual enrichment in their lives; I believe you can achieve that by giving."

Besides, it comes naturally, Sandie points out. "Network marketers are quite familiar with the principle, 'You don't succeed unless you help someone else succeed.' It's only natural to extend that beyond the business.

"So many of our people have achieved financial freedom through our business opportunity; what do they do with that income? Once you've bought your dream car and built your dream house, you soon find yourself saying, 'All right, what's next?'"

On the heels of that inquiry, says Sandie, one soon comes to realize that the kind of work the Foundation does is indeed the heart of the business.

"The distributors and the products, that's the hands and the brains...but this? This is the heart."

 

Recent Force for Good Foundation Projects

Kenya
Many of Kenya's rural Maasai children are too poor to attend public school. The Force for Good Foundation is helping the Opportunity Fund for Developing Countries buy needed supplies and school fees for 100 children, and a fence at one school to protect them from wild animal attacks.

Colombia
The Angel Guardian Foundation runs a school for disadvantaged children in Manizales, Colombia, providing classrooms, restrooms, a library and daily meals for its students.

Mexico
The Force for Good Foundation is helping Western Relief International replace a building for the San Luis Boys Home, an orphanage sponsored by a local Catholic Parish, for up to 40 boys.

Russia
Share A Smile is a group of American dentists who volunteer their skills to those in need. In fall 2003, the group visited orphanages near Moscow to provide health education and dental care; a Force for Good Foundation donation purchased a portable dental x-ray machine.

Mexico
The Father of a Catholic church group recently obtained an undeveloped plot of land in Tijuana to build a school and safe haven for the region's mentally-handicapped children, who cannot attend public school and are often victims of persecution by other children. A Force for Good Foundation donation helped get construction underway.

El Salvador, Peru, Guatemala
With the help of Force for Good Foundation funds, Enterprise Mentors International helps impoverished small business owners in developing countries attain self-sufficiency through small enterprise activities and educational assistance, including training, character development, counseling, mentoring and small loans.

Malawi
Malawi (in south-central Africa) is in the midst of its worst drought in 50 years. The Malawi Project assists Napoleon Dzombe and other civic and government leaders to distribute food and medical supplies to the poor; a Force for Good Foundation donation purchased a 10-ton truck to deliver much-needed food.