The Business Of Giving

The following is a guest post by Lynley Sides. If you’d like to contribute thinking here, please read the guidelines.

Can companies boost their bottom lines by doing good during the holidays? Should they? Absolutely. And not just the big ones.

Companies should not apologize for trying to create business value from the gift-giving or charitable giving they do. Especially this time of year, companies give gifts (a $17 billion industry) or give to charity ($6 billion) which generate goodwill and change lives for the better –- all good. But today, technology and social media enable them to create tangible wins for their business through these activities as well.

Consumers’ expectations of company social responsibility are higher than ever and company giving is definitely moving the needle on the “need” side of the equation.  What’s less clear is whether it’s moving the needle on the revenue side.  And, in these challenging times, what doesn’t improve the bottom line will in the end not be sustainable – regardless of how much the company wants to do it.

So how can your company, regardless of size or industry, meet expectations for doing good in ways that are good for business?

Holiday gifts

At my last company, my group had a slew of vendors and we received all sorts of gifts during the holidays – wine, branded shirts, “towers” of goodies, and so on. We gave most of it out around the office and some went to the landfill. The only gift I remember from those years was from a small agency, Swirl, that gave us the opportunity to donate, on their dime, to one of a few charities — it’s 10 years later and I’m still talking about them.  No doubt, some of the gifts and incentives companies are giving away this year are really cool (feel free to send that extra iPad my way), but we all know far too much of it goes to waste – literally. And the recipient probably won’t tell his friends about the fruit basket.

Charitable gift cards have meaning for the recipient, change lives for the better, strengthen a company’s image, and won’t fill up landfills.  Some of the best alternatives:

  • The Glue Network: recipient chooses among humanitarian projects in nine categories.  Uniqueness: offers broad choices for the recipient and inherently generates strong branding and PR for the company.
  • Kiva: recipient chooses among global micro-lending opportunities.  Uniqueness: micro-finance is powerful in addressing global poverty and Kiva is a respected pioneer.
  • Donors Choose: recipient can support a specific need for a teacher and classroom.  Uniqueness: projects are crowd-sourced, specific and support education which is the cause category of most concern to Americans today.

Marketing and loyalty programs

People are nearly twice as likely to buy or recommend a product if it’s affiliated with a cause they care about. However, when a company makes a charitable gift, the cause may fit with their brand and help a good cause — but necessarily, it’s not the one most of that brand’s customers would have chosen. To drive greater business value, create cause-based experiences that allow consumer choice and provide rich social experiences. Voting campaigns by brands like Pepsi, Chase, Gap, Target and more take a step toward this but could do more to deliver engaging experiences and direct business results.

Some suggestions:

  • The Glue Network automates cause-based social marketing programs of any size that create deep engagement, multi-point brand/cause associations, high sharing rates and a closed loop brands can use to drive new customers and rich data.
  • GoodChime (launching 12/4) connects brands, celebrities and causes in the consumers’ efforts to live healthier lifestyles. Coupons include discounts to drive purchases and cause gifts, associating the brand with the consumer’s cause and health-related achievements.
  • Social games tap into the passion of gamers and deliver high engagement, multi-point brand/cause associations, and sharing.  These include Zynga’s branded social good / social games, Trash Tycoon’s branded game experiences to advance green causes and an interesting new company Bee*Kin (launching in April).
  • Many sites facilitate e-commerce sales where a percentage is donated to a good cause. While these do empower consumers, associate the company with causes, and create some sales, they tend to be limited in richness of experience and depth of connection and therefore enduring business value.

We all love to see companies give. However, as economic pressures persist, if corporate giving, gift-giving, and cause marketing efforts aren’t integrated into business strategy and don’t drive value beyond the golden halo, they will cease to be justifiable — which would be a missed opportunity for business and a massive loss for the world.

Lynley Sides is CEO of The Glue Network and has spent her career bringing groundbreaking new products to market.  She’s passionate about digital media, social ventures, running, skiing and the fight for global human freedom.  Follow her on Twitter @LynleySides.

image credit: Shutterstock