What Giving Back Means to Your Customers

December 16, 2010

A majority of consumers (83 percent according to a recent American Express study) are interested in making purchases that benefit charity, the environment and their local communities. Most companies are more than happy to match their customers’ benevolent goals, but there are some practical obstacles to overcome in order to ensure that everyone benefits from the effort. Here are some practical tips to mastering give-a-nomics at your company:

  1. Heart Trumps Wallet. Goodwill is not generated by a single or occasional cash dump on a charity no matter how well-intentioned the effort. Rather, goodwill is a natural side-effect of the reputation your company builds in its day-to-day operations. If you continually strive to improve the customer experience, you will build a reputation as a caring company and your charitable donations – both large and small – will be far more credible to consumers.  Consistency matters. Make sure your company is living – rather than just delivering – a message of goodwill.
  2. Serve Mea Culpas Straight Up. Your company may want to make amends for a past transgression by donating to a charity, but resist the urge. Your charitable donations under such circumstances are likely to be seen as a mere PR ploy which can lead to consumer backlash and make matters worse. If your company feels a need to make things right simply apologize but put your heart into it and never, ever make the same mistake again.  Of course, actual retributions are rightfully expected but don’t label those as charitable donations.
  3. Match Intent Instead of Trends. It’s easy to get excited about giving to a charity and thus rush into things. The first inclination is usually to give time and money to the most popular charities of the day. But that could put your company out of sync with the charities your customers most want to support with their purchases. If you know your customers well, the charities you should support will be easily identified. A good CRM program can help you track such interests easily.
  4. One Rule in Giving: Go local. Giving to charity on a national or global scale can feel too removed from the suffering people see in their own communities. Thus, making a billion dollar donation to a single national cause can actually create distance between your company and your customers rather than solidifying the giving partnership. As an alternative to giving a lump sum to a national or international charity, consider giving smaller sums to several local efforts or earmarking your national donation for several community efforts rather than simply contributing to the general fund. However, there are exceptions to this rule such as in donating to disaster relief or medical discovery efforts. The key is to find a cause that resonates with your customer base for whatever that is, it will be considered close to home!
  5. Don’t Measure Impact by Expense. Far too often companies feel they are not making an impact unless their charitable contributions are very sizeable. This perception is not in sync with the new post-recession reality. In these cost-conscious times when unemployment is high, large charitable contributions can actually discourage your customers from participating. Why? Because customers may think their own contribution is too small to have an impact on a huge effort or they may think your company is over-charging for its products and services if you have so much money to give away. When either thought-pattern is prevalent, breaking your budget to make an impact is doubly disastrous. Instead, make charitable contributions based on the impact your contribution will actually have on the cause itself and on your customers’ charitable goals. In other words, don’t measure the impact of your efforts solely on the size of the expense and don’t break the bank in an effort to make a statement. Your customers had rather you be sincere and effective on a smaller scale than flashy and less-genuine on a larger scale.