Every community in America has a critical universe of philanthropic families that provide financial support for the unique causes that form the social and cultural foundation of that community. In Kansas City for example, we have the Kaufmanns, the Helzbergs and the Halls among others. Each of these families is frequently called upon to provide their financial support and personal endorsement for our city’s most important causes. They do not make their decisions hastily. They give their support only after fully understanding what the specific impact of their donation will be.
While cause branding programs do not replace the work of the great philanthropists among us, there are important lessons to be learned from the careful approach they take before making decisions. Corporations involved in cause branding today and those contemplating it in the future should consider the same approach in developing and executing their programs. In particular, companies need to make sure their cause branding programs clearly and specifically communicate what the money being raised is going to accomplish.
It is critical today that each time a company asks a consumer to either purchase a product with proceeds going to a cause or make a straight donation to the cause, the consumer knows what their money will do. The more specific, the better it is for the company, the consumer and the success of the program. Now we know there is a slight difference in the amount of donation being made by our civic philanthropist and our consumer engaged by a cause branding program. But why should there be any difference in making the consumer feel as good about their donation as the philanthropist? That’s a trick question of course. There should be no difference.
Consider this partnership announced recently between Coca-Cola and Stater Bros. Supermarkets in southern California. The two companies, neither of which are a Barkley client, are combining efforts to plant up to 1 million tree seedlings in two California state parks. It is part of an overall effort by the California State Parks department called “Reforest California” to replant thousands of acres burned by wildfires in recent years.
The campaign runs through May at all 166 Stater Bros. stores. Money will flow from two sources. Customers will be asked at the checkout counter if they want to contribute and Coca-Cola will donate $1 for every $10 of purchases of its products sold at Stater Bros. stores. This is a simple and direct approach. Every customer knows their checkout donation or their purchase of Coke products will plant a tree in one of two state parks in their area.
Companies and nonprofits need to use this program as a guidepost. When you ask your customers to get engaged in your cause program, can you tell them exactly what their donation will do? If not, you need to stop and ask a simple question. What is our “tree seedling?”