Use Your Head- Engage in Philanthropy Strategically

Businesses of all sizes are hit up daily with requests to support causes, nonprofits, and charities. Many of these requests are from legitimate organizations with laudable aims. However, it is simply impossible for a business to say “yes” to every request. Besides, engaging in corporate philanthropy based on solicitations is a reactive way to practice corporate social responsibility. Instead, a proactive strategy of aligning your brand with causes, issues, or organizations that are relevant to your customers will enhance the likelihood of a favorable return on investment... yes that ROI.

Philanthropic decisions should be made with consideration of how the impact on your brand and business. What is the expected outcome of philanthropic involvement- image enhancement? Brand preference? Customer loyalty? But, before that question can be answered, a more pertinent question to ask is “What matters to our customers?” Aligning support with an issue that is a priority with customers is a key to transforming philanthropy from donations to brand investments.

An example of strategically driven philanthropy is an initiative announced recently by Dick’s Sporting Goods. The retail chain has identified an issue that is very important to many of its customers: concussions. Dick’s program, called Protecting Athletes through Concussion Education (PACE), will provide neurological testing for more than 1 million high school athletes. If tested athletes suffer a concussion, they will receive additional testing to assess the impact of their injury on brain function. The initiative is supported by a website, and NFL Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis will appear in a commercial promoting a cause marketing promotion that links athletic shoe purchase to donations to PACE.

Does Dick’s Sporting Goods want to sell more shoes, apparel, and equipment because of its association with a cause that matters to its customers? Of course it does, but it would have been easier for Dick’s to write a check to an organization than create the PACE program. And, it certainly would have cost less to not go to the lengths of paying for a million neurological tests. But convenience and cost are not the issues- connection with a target audience is the overarching objective.

For your brand to matter to customers, it is essential to first understand what matters to them. That understanding goes beyond what they want from a product to what is relevant in their lives. Strategic philanthropy is a strategy for connecting your brand to their values.

The New York Times – “Sporting Goods Chain Supports Concussion Testing in Schools”

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