Spread the Good Word

Partner with nonprofit causes to boost your business's profile ... and help others.
by : 

Jean Haller

September 1, 2012
Spread the Good Word

Let’s face it: Marketing is usually all about you. Well, at least about your business and enticing more customers to shop with you. But, marketing doesn’t have to be just about that; you can do good for your community while also spreading the good word about your business. How? It’s called cause marketing: the combined efforts of a for-profit business and a charitable cause—a nonprofit organization—for their mutual benefit. It can also be called social responsibility marketing.

We see it every day with the partnering of large corporations with national charitable foundations: Yoplait’s drive to collect their product lids to benefit breast cancer research, JCPenney’s Pennies From Heaven campaign to raise money for after-school programs, RadioShack selling LIVESTRONG headphones to benefit cancer research, Starbucks partnering with the Opportunity Finance Network for their Create Jobs for USA campaign, and the General Mills Pound for Pound challenge to feed the hungry are just a few of the hundreds of cause marketing programs we have seen on the national level in the past several years. And the programs keep coming. According to Cause Marketing Forum (www.causemarketingforum.com), more than 30 new programs have been started in 2012 to benefit groups such as Ronald McDonald Houses, Soles4Souls, and MADD.

So, how does this relate to you? Partnering with a local nonprofit organization will achieve four things for a small business:

  1. Raise money for a nonprofit group
  2. Raise awareness in the community for your business
  3. Attract new customers to your business
  4. Spread good Karma throughout your community

What might seem like a daunting process is actually rather easy once you identify local groups you would consider partnering with. Many businesses have a favorite charity they support throughout the year. My store, Journeys of Life in Pittsburgh, Pa., supports four—the women’s domestic violence shelter, a women’s halfway house, a school for at-risk adolescents, and the local soup kitchen. Many of our efforts throughout the year benefit these groups. However, we are constantly seeking new groups to partner with.

Ways to find nonprofits to support

Once you make a decision to seek partnerships with local nonprofits, it’s important to think about what groups may be the best fit for your store. Start with recommendations from your employees or your customers, some of whom are likely to be passionate about a charity or organization they support and would be willing to introduce your business to their group. My store has found successful partnership opportunities this way. Another method is to do a search online. MelissaData (www.melissadata.com) is a service that allows you to search for various information by zip code, including a list of 501(c)(3) organizations. I was amazed to see how many non-profits there are in my zip code. The possible partnerships are limited only by your imagination and willingness to reach out.

Effective cause marketing program ideas

Endorsed mailings. This involves your partner organization agreeing to mail a gift certificate from your business to their constituents. You design the certificate offering, say, $5 to anyone from ABC Organization to use at your store. You clearly state the time frame and that 10 percent of the sale after the gift amount will be given to ABC. It’s that simple. This can be included in the organization’s newsletter, tucked in with another piece of literature they are sending, or you can pay for them to mail it to their list on your behalf. I also have given an organization enough gift certificates to hand out to people attending their benefit dinner. This gives both parties multiple advantages. Of course, many will say, “I can’t afford to send out 200 $5 gift certificates. What if everyone uses them?” I said the same thing when I was introduced to the program at a WhizBang Training seminar (www.whizbangtraining.com). Yes, some would only spend the $5, but in my experience, the amount spent far surpasses the initial gift. I’ve done this with many different organizations, some with better response than others. But in all cases, the average sale far exceeded the gifted amount.

After-hours events. Offering a nonprofit group the opportunity to have a private evening event at your store full of fun activities, refreshments, and shopping can be a win-win for all involved. The group invites their members to come and shop and receives a percentage of the sales from the event. You offer a drawing for a gift basket to get names and emails of new potential customers, serve some refreshments, and ring up sales! This type of event is particularly successful leading up to the holidays. People need to shop anyway, so why not shop for a cause? I have done several of these events with women’s organizations benefiting a local charity. I furnished them with invitations to give their members, and they did the actual inviting. The costs were minimal—a few refreshments and the invites—for a really great return for both my business and the organization. Best of all, my store attracted many new customers as a result of these events.

Perpetual partnerships. If you’re looking to create permanent relationships to build your business, consider approaching several organizations you would like to partner with, perhaps some with whom you hosted an event or sponsored a shopping night. Offer a “Give Back Card” to their members (who present the card whenever they shop at your store) and donate a percentage of the sale to the partner charity. This is done in our area through our public television stations. These perpetual partnerships can work in two ways. The first is to offer a discount to people who have supported the partnering organization during their fundraising campaign. Usually, a 10 percent discount is given upon presenting the card. In my store, this has gotten our name in front of thousands of people and the cost to us is directly related to our ability to sell product to these new and returning customers. The second way the Give Back Card can work is by offering to give 10 percent of the sales made using the card to the sponsoring organization. Just be sure to differentiate the cards when beginning the program.

Important considerations

Be sure to keep good records for your cause marketing events. We require information from everyone using a gift certificate from one of our partners, including email addresses, which helps us build our customer database. We also write the total amount of the sale on the back of the gift certificate so we can track sales and determine average sales figures. This also helps us keep records of the amount to be paid to the partner organization. Many point-of-sale (POS) systems allow for such tracking automatically. Probably the most important thing you can do for creating successful cause marketing events is to have a written agreement with the partners stating what you as the sponsor of the event will provide and what their responsibilities for the program are. It’s really important that groups know what they’re expected to do in return for the money you are going to raise for them.

These ideas take a little time and effort, as well as a small amount of cash, to make happen. However, you will see it is well worth it to create the great personal relationships that come from cause marketing.

Jean Haller is an editor-at-large for Retailing Insight and the owner of Journeys of Life (www.journeysoflifeonline.com), a gift and bookstore in Pittsburgh, Pa., celebrating 25 years in business.