Cause Marketing with Benefits: Does it Work?

In meeting with a potential new partner last week, we discussed doing a point-of-sale program in their stores to raise money for the hospital.  Since such programs involve our frontline employees, they asked, should we offer them incentives for hitting specific fundraising goals?

It's a good question that doesn't have a simple answer.  I had high hopes for incentives when I first started running point-of-sale programs.  Surely employees will respond to a tempting array of gift certificates, electronics, t-shirts and food, I thought.  But the reality was very different.  Here's what I learned.

Unmotivated employees stay unmotivated.  Even with incentives these employees won't push the program.  Indeed, their lack of motivation extends to just about every part of their lives!

Motivated employees don't need incentives.  These employees are carefully selected by the employer, well trained and have drunk from the company cool-aid.  They push the program because they want to and because they're told to.  Yes, they are more motivated, but they're also more disciplined and better on following the orders given to them by their supervisors.

Motivated employees can be marginally motivated with incentives.  Incentives can give motivated employees an extra boost to push the program.  But you don't need to offer them much.  Five dollar gift cards to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts seem to do the trick.  So does a pizza party for the winning store at the end of the program.  We did give away more expensive incentives, but I never felt like they did or would make a difference.  In short, they were expensive giveaways, not incentives.

If this is your first point-of-sale program with a company, don't offer any incentives.  See what happens.  Even without incentives, the program should do pretty well and there should be an enthusiasm among employees to do it again.  Adding incentives to the next round will feed the fire (with gasoline!).

Three suggestions on how to run a successful point-of-sale program:

Managers are key.  Incentives work with frontline employees, but don't forget that managers are employees too.  A manager constantly reminding cashiers to ask customers to donate a dollar is worth their weight in gold.  The best way to incentivize the manager is to convince the company to tie-in the fundraiser with sales goals and her compensation.  This will get her attention!

A retail partner that raised $140,000 for us last year agrees:

Most of our success with the mobile program has been due to store managers.  They are essentially the ones who really drive the program in store.  While incentives might work in some stores, they have no impact on others.  We also incorporate the mobile sales into our mystery shopper reports.  From an operational standpoint, this encourages all employees to ask customers to purchase a mobile.  Otherwise, stores run the risk of losing points on their mystery shopper reports.

Choose your recipients carefully.  Some employees are better than others for incentives.  Employees that are trained to upsell and are rewarded when they do are good candidates.  Don't insult them by not offering them.  Incentives will give the program its best chance for success. 

Make it easy.   Cashiers have enough to do at the register and are frequently upselling customers on a veriety of items: "Do you need any batteries today?"  "Apply for a credit card and you can save twenty percent."  "Are your children a member of our kids club?"  The last thing they want or need is a complicated program to sell.  Give them a simple, one-line pitch like "Would you like to donate a dollar to help a sick child?"  If you can add a coupon to the mobile that will give the consumer their own incentive to fork over a buck, even better.  It makes the cashier's job that much easier.  As will a barcode on the mobile so they can scan it in to the register like any other item.

Incentives can work.  You just need to know when to use them, and with whom.