Donation boxes - also called coin canisters - are one of the simplest and cheapest ways to raise money from businesses. The action happens at the register after customers buy something and they drop a few coins, or a buck or two, into a donation box. Sometimes the cashier gives the shopper a nudge - "We're raising money to help the troops" - but often not. That's why I call it passive cause marketing.
A lot of nonprofits have written off donation boxes as a lousy way to raise money from businesses. As one nonprofit executive explained to me: "They don't raise a lot of money and they're just kind of a hassle. Coins are heavy!"
I have to agree on the latter. I remember loading so many coins into my trunk I thought my back bumper would scrape the pavement. But I've raised a lot of money from donation boxes. I bet you can too - if you pick the right business and correctly execute the program.
One nonprofit that's doing just that is the USO. I met two employees from this great organization, which has been serving our troops for 70 years, at Cause Marketing Forum in May and followed up with a phone call last week to get a few more details on their successes. Thanks to Gayle Fishel, Cathy Martens and Margie Kirst for their time!
The USO has raised millions with donation boxes. Here's what they and I have learned.
Target busy stores. Like pinups, the busier the business the more money you'll raise. It's a numbers game in that your odds improve as you see more people. Sure, you can put a donation box in a tailor's shop. But how many customers does a tailor see each day? Not as many as a supermarket, coffee shop, or bakery sees. The USO knows this firsthand as a key partner for their donation boxes is Kangaroo Express convenience stores. These busy stores have over 1,600 location in 13 states.
Cash is king. A while back a car dealership called me about doing donation boxes. I told them to think of something else. How many people are buying cars with cash, much less quarters, nickels and dimes? Target businesses where people pay with cash. It's not surprising that my most successful coin canister program was with a bagel shop. People would buy a bagel and coffee for a few bucks and drop their change in the donation box.
No tips allowed. Tip jars are popular at many businesses. But your coin canister won't be if you try to replace the tip jar or include it on the counter. Employees count on these tips. I once asked a Starbucks barista how much they made from the tip jar every week: $50 per person. That's a nice little bonus for someone making eight bucks an hour. If you include your canister alongside the tip jar it won't be there for long.
Front and center. I've seen donation boxes in the most bizarre locations, including one in the men's bathroom at a store. It certainly got my attention! But the best place for a donation box is right in front of the cash register. I like to say, "Don't give people an excuse to say no." A donation box anywhere except in front of the register is just begging to be ignored. There are other ways to put your donation box front and center. The USO and Kangaroo Express turned their program into a real event. Patriotic show cars visited stores and customers showed their appreciation for troops with recorded messages aired on the Salute Our Troops website.
Security is key. Theft is a big problem with donation boxes, especially with the small, round canisters with the slot in the top. It's demoralizing to the business and the nonprofit when they get swiped. My partner, Finagle a Bagel, stopped theft by investing in heavy-duy donation boxes that were locked and bolted to the counter. But this isn't economical if you have a business partner such as Kangaroo Express with hundreds of stores. You'll have to invest in something cheaper, but whatever you choose, security should be a priority. Kangaroo Express asks its employees to empty the canisters daily.
Donation boxes are an easy business fundraiser that involves little heavy lifting - until you have to pick up all the coins. Have you tried donation boxes before? Did you have a good or bad experience?