The Value of Sharing Your Values

Going Beyond Dollars and Cents

By Michelle Blake

At some point in their session, clients at Angie Parris-Raney’s Littleton, Colorado, office are likely to strike up a conversation about children in a remote Peruvian orphanage. And Laura Allen’s clients sometimes drop by her clinic in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, just to leave canned food for the local homeless shelter.

Like many massage therapists, Parris-Raney and Allen do a fair amount of charitable work. But unlike many of us, their charitable causes are fully integrated into their professional lives. Their efforts deliver caring and kindness out into the world, which is the primary goal, but the therapists and their clients benefit, too.

Shared Values

A growing number of consumers want to feel good about the businesses they support. By promoting a good cause, you can help build client loyalty and foster client-practitioner relationships that are strengthened by shared values. Whether those values center around helping children in a flood-ravaged Peruvian community, opening a local no-kill animal shelter, or conserving energy and preserving natural resources, we all have much to gain by letting our clients know the social values that drive our decisions.

Because our client-practitioner relationships are based on much more than an exchange of services and dollars, we stand to benefit more than other businesses when we communicate our values. Spa owner Michael Stusser says there is no question it can play a role in the client-practitioner relationship. The foundations of a strong massage and bodywork practice—good communication, personalized attention, a holistic approach to wellness—are a comfortable fit with values-based communication, he says. Stusser knows this better than most. In 1985, when he founded Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, California, values-based business practices were scarcely discussed. Today, eco-conscious businesses like his attract such a loyal following that Stusser has founded the Green Spa Network to help other owners and practitioners build their values-based businesses.

The Giving Nature of Massage

Stusser says he and his network colleagues are learning as they go. While other industries have gotten quite comfortable touting green and socially conscious business practices, the massage and bodywork profession is a bit late to the game. While many in this profession are environmentally and socially conscious, we often fail to communicate that fact to our clients.

My own experience is probably typical. I’ve practiced massage full time since 1993, and I’m also heavily involved in local nonprofit organizations. I tended to think my professional and volunteer work inhabited separate universes. In truth, by keeping them sequestered, I was missing opportunities to deepen my client relationships. Then I got a small mention in the local newspaper for serving as board president at our animal shelter. For several weeks, my clients brought the news clipping to their massage appointments, and several taped personal notes to my door. Clients told me they showed the newspaper to a relative or coworker, pointed at my picture, and said, “That’s my massage therapist!”

Allen, who also teaches and writes about massage, has noticed the charitable character of our profession. “Massage therapists are just the most giving,” she says. Whether offering chair massages at a walk-a-thon or treating first responders at disaster sites, Allen says MTs are “the first to step up and say ‘What can I do?’” She sees that giving nature as a business asset. Allen attended a massage school that required community service, and charitable work has always figured prominently in her business plan. “I believe you have to get out in your community to have any measure of success,” she says. 

Because Allen’s community is home to a large number of military families, her clinic offers free massage to returning veterans, ongoing discounts for all veterans, and free Veteran’s Day massage events. She gives discounts to clients who donate food to the local homeless shelter, helps raise funds for a new no-kill animal shelter, donates gift certificates to school fundraisers, sponsors community events, and donates to virtually any church that asks for her help. “Yet I don’t even go to church,” she laughs. “It’s about giving back to the community. It is our community that has made my business such a wild success. It comes back to us many times.”

Bottom-Line Benefits

Through all of the fundraising and volunteering something notable has happened in Allen’s clinic, which offers acupuncture, chiropractic, and spa services, in addition to massage. She’s watched and worried as the economy has “really gone to the devil,” leading local businesses to struggle and even close. Yet, her business has remained vital. “We’re the second most economically depressed county in the state and one of the most depressed in the nation,” she notes. “But my business has not slowed down one bit in the recession.”

There’s good data to explain Allen’s ability to thrive in the downturn. A nationwide survey in 2009—well into the recession—found that 70 percent of consumers pay close attention to the ethical and environmental efforts of companies, and one-third of consumers have become even more attentive since the economic meltdown.1 When people have fewer dollars to spend, they’re more discerning about who gets their business.

This is not only a matter of dollars and cents, however. People enjoy taking part in something meaningful and helpful. If they’re going to get massage anyway, it feels doubly beneficial to get it at the spa with the sustainable building, or schedule it on a day when a portion of their money will feed homeless families or provide school supplies for children. Those win-win propositions are at the heart of the growing interest in environmentally and socially responsible businesses. But in this profession, the relationships add another dimension.

Broader Human Benefits

Parris-Raney experienced the benefits of these value-based client-practitioner relationships in 2008, after her first trip to Peru. She’d gone with an aid organization, hoping to provide massage for special-needs children. “Ayacucho is well below the poverty level,” she says. “So I go down there thinking I’m going to do great stuff with massage, and I realize I have to learn how to tell them to stop hitting each other, and they need to learn basic hygiene and hand washing.” The poverty was so extreme, and the needs so overwhelming, that Parris-Raney came home feeling depressed. She returned to work with her memories weighing heavily on her heart. “I knew I needed to go back,” she says. “My clients heard about the work and they said, ‘Angie, this is the love of your life.’”

With backing and encouragement from clients, Parris-Raney founded a small organization called Project Inti ( One client offered legal help with attaining official nonprofit status and others donated to the cause. Parris-Raney now devotes 100 percent of her infant-massage income to Project Inti, which was able to deliver tents and blankets during a severe freeze and send relief to families whose homes washed away in a flood. In 2011, she launched what she calls a “voluntourism” initiative, bringing travelers along to volunteer at schools and orphanages, while taking breaks to hike and raft in the rugged terrain.

Now, massage clients in Littleton  feel a unique connection when children in Cusco, Peru, receive new shoes and medicine. There’s also a shared sense of purpose that enriches their massage time. “I have clients who don’t feel they could do the work I’m doing,” says Parris-Raney. Seeing orphaned children and impoverished communities is emotionally challenging, and international travel is physically and financially demanding, but Parris-Raney’s clients can lend support and follow vicariously as she braves the adventures, as well as the heartbreak. “Half of them say the conversation about Peru is almost part of the healing experience,” she says.

A Few Caveats

For Parris-Raney, the only challenge now—albeit a minor one—is to keep massage sessions focused on the clients. She says she finds that balance by making sure clients know the massage is their time. Some clients want to hear the latest news during the session, while others prefer to be quiet during the session and chat before or after the massage.

Maintaining focus is just one of the caveats to observe when weaving shared values and compelling projects into the therapeutic relationship. Allen also stresses the importance of carefully choosing which causes to bring into your professional life. She’ll support almost any local cause that’s inclusive and positive, and she says no to the rest. For example, she sponsored a meet-the-candidate forum because it was nonpartisan, but she said no when a client invited her to a politically divisive rally on the courthouse steps.

My own experience illustrates the importance of these caveats. These days, I help run a volunteer organization that builds fenced yards for dogs who were previously chained. In the process of unchaining 200 dogs, we’ve gotten a fair amount of media coverage, and my clients still love to see their massage therapist in the paper. They also value the cause, much like they applauded my work at the animal shelter. Helping neglected dogs and cats is an excellent shared value that virtually all of my clients want to discuss and support. In comparison, my veganism and more progressive animal activism appeal only to a few. In successful value-based communication, shared values are key. Maintaining focused sessions is another minor challenge, because even if clients ask, details about animal neglect aren’t a good fit with therapeutic massage. Like Parris-Raney, I often hear clients say they couldn’t do my work, but many welcome the chance to support the cause from a safe vantage point.

Empowerment and Transformation

With these general boundaries in place, our social and environmental efforts can become valuable assets to our professional lives. Communicating values can benefit both clients and practitioners in profound and unexpected ways. “Where people come to us for transformation, there’s more opening to develop a relationship and growth and learning,” Stusser says. When practitioners are particularly passionate about their work, they create an environment that clients enjoy being a part of. When that happens, massage and bodywork offer something empowering and healing for body, mind, and spirit. As Parris-Raney says, “I definitely think my clients are invested in the initiatives I have in place, and they get excited. Sometimes it even inspires them to do something they’ve wanted to do as well.”


1. Cone Environmental Survey, “Cone Releases 2009 Consumer Environmental Survey,” accessed March 2012,


Michelle Blake, MAIS, LMT, has a private practice in Salem, Oregon, and teaches at the Oregon School of Massage. She is passionate about the interchange of social change and personal action. She can be reached at


Communication Strategies

The scale and scope of your social-responsibility efforts are unique to your practice. They may be as elaborate as installing solar power, or as simple as setting out a donation canister for a local charity. Your communication plan will be unique, too. Explore ways to announce your good works, much like you spell out your fee schedules and cancellation policies.


Your website is the ideal place to include news briefs about your volunteerism or social and environmental efforts. If you have an overriding philosophy that guides your professional life, spell it out. If you run a nonprofit, link to its website.


Printed materials such as business cards and brochures can highlight your business philosophy right alongside your office hours and modalities. Instead of the standard professional head-and-shoulders photo, show yourself working on your favorite cause. The photo is likely to reveal a more approachable, less formal version of you, which creates an instant rapport.


Charities welcome extra exposure from community supporters. If you’re a donor or a volunteer for a well-loved organization, add a link from your website and keep brochures in your office. This is especially important if you’re a founder or chief organizer of a nonprofit organization.


A bulletin board in your office might be the perfect place to post a photo of you giving chair massages at last weekend’s charity walk-a-thon. It’s also a good place to spell out your commitment to recycling, or mention the steps you’ve taken to make your office more energy efficient.


Framed photos or news articles show your clients that your work impacts the community and garners recognition. Remember, too, that we all like to see someone we know in the news, and clients will be happy to see that the local paper quoted you or printed your photo. 


Small signs around your office can point clients toward your recycling bins or single-use cloth hand towels. A note next to your reusable water glasses can remind clients that you’re helping to keep plastic bottles out of landfills.


Outreach and word of mouth happen naturally when you’re involved in your community. It’s so effective at building goodwill that many large corporations require their employees to volunteer for charities or serve on nonprofit boards. Your volunteer efforts do the same for your massage practice.


Advertising with charitable organizations lets your dollars do double duty. When you advertise in the local animal shelter’s newsletter or the symphony association’s program, everyone wins. The charity gets your support, you get some exposure, and your community sees your values. 



Are You LOHAS?

By Darren Buford

ABMP Publications Manager |


Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) is an organization that connects businesses that promote holistic living. Through its annual forum, online journal, and website, the organization provides practical tools for business owners and best practices to businesses in the following fields: health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice.


According to LOHAS, one of its goals is to help businesses tap into the $290 billion health and sustainability market, which includes one in four Americans, by bringing together seemingly disparate companies (i.e., a yoga company and a hybrid car company) to better cater to this market.

When asked about how massage therapists and bodyworkers fit into the LOHAS paradigm, the organization’s director, Ted Ning, replied, “Massage therapists are a conduit between the client and a deeper understanding of connection to body, spirit, and the environment, which massage provides. Educating clients about health, diet, and skin care can go a long way. Therapists are positioned in a unique way to give insights and feedback on how a client’s body is behaving based on stress, diet, and bad habits. LOHAS can provide therapists access to information that includes massage, but also an understanding of how it fits into a larger holistic picture.”

For more information about LOHAS, visit The annual LOHAS forum will be held in Boulder, Colorado, June 12–14.



Green Spa Network has tips on greening your practice. Members have access to green business strategies, training, and conferences.


GreenBiz offers news on businesses and environmental issues, including a section on green business marketing and communications.


At, members can create their own website and marketing brochures, which can be customized to also include their social/environmental responsibility practices.