7 Key Takeaways for Cause Marketers from America's Checkout Champions Report [SPONSORED]

If you haven't checked out the 2017 America's Charity Checkout Champions report, it's a must-read for anyone in the cause marketing space.

Congratulations to the Engage for Good team for putting together such an outstanding resource!

Pouring over the report, I came away with seven key takeaways for cause marketers. These should help you navigate and understand the report - and apply its lessons!

1. Not Doing Checkout Charity? You're Missing a YUGGEEE Opportunity

I talk to nonprofits all the time that want to raise more money from businesses. But they're not trying to pitch businesses on charity pinups, donation requests, donation boxes or round-up programs. They are simply leaving a lot of money on the table. Just look at the results from the top 73 programs: $441 million.

I know what many of you are thinking: "Joe, we're not St. Jude or Children's Miracle Network and we don't have national partners like Kmart and Autozone." 

That shouldn't stop you.

The 73 fundraisers in this report are just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of checkout fundraisers that raise under one million dollars and were not included in the report (which set minimum threshold of one million or more raised to be included in the report).

Don't believe me? Here are two local fundraisers to inspire you.

How This Chain of Garden Centers Raises Six-Figures with Cause Marketing

How One Vermont Grocery Store Raised $300,000 for Charity

Are you ready to get started with checkout charity? This post will help!

The Lazy Fundraiser's Guide to Raising Six Figures This Fall

2. There's a Fortune to be Raised at the Bottom of the Pyramid

The 73 companies in the Checkout Champions report are primarily retail and restaurant chains. Are you thinking, "Oh, no! All the great businesses are already taken!" Not even close. There are still many, many businesses that could be raising money with checkout programs. Just check out the number of restaurants in the United States.

As of the fall of of 2016, the U. S. had nearly 621,000 restaurants. 

The number of retailers in the United States is truly massive. In tiny Rhode Island alone there are nearly 13,000 retail establishments. Check out how many retailers there are in your state.

Are all these restaurants and retailers appropriate for checkout charity? Probably not. Most are small and wouldn't raise much money. But there are hundreds of retail chains with five or more locations that could be raising money for your organization.

Check out how this mid-Atlantic restaurant chain with 12 locations raised $200,000 for charity through the sales of a popular dessert. 

3. With so much Opportunity, Nonprofits Need a Better Strategy to Land Partners 

Over the past month or so, I've talked a lot with fellow cause marketers Dan Cohen (nonprofit sales wiz) and Brittany Hill (research genie) about cause marketing success being a stool with three legs. If you don't have all three, your cause marketing will never be on solid footing and you'll keep falling over!

Research. How do you recruit new corporate partners when you've exhausted your own list of supporters? Nonprofits need a resource for identifying and cultivating qualified prospects. 

“There are two key pieces to the information puzzle that helps organization’s secure new corporate partnerships:  Research and Data," explained Maureen Carlson, co-founder of Catalist, a company that markets an online matchmaking platform for companies and causes. 

"Research is essential so that you understand your target company’s brand, CSR strategies, consumer profiles, marketing tactics, and more," said Maureen.

But it is also vital to know your own Data.

"What is your donor profile? Who are your influencers? What are your donor affinities? How strong is your brand resonance?  Understanding all of this can help you create a new pipeline of right-fit targets with a higher probability of becoming a corporate partner."  

Even with a sales team and content marketing, you'll be in the dark without solid research capabilities.

Sales. Nonprofits need a dedicated sales member/team to identify, cultivate and close cause partnerships. This can't be done by a major gifts officer or grant writer as it requires a sales and marketing mindset and experience creating win-win partnerships. Even if you're lucky to have research capabilities and content marketing, I'd wager that without the right sales people you won't close many deals.

Content Marketing. I wrote extensively on this topic earlier this month. Content marketing is needed to:

  • Build a pipeline of leads that will augment the outbound activity of your sales team. Remember, leads that come from content marketing are better leads because the prospect initiates the interaction with you. These are "warm leads" and will fill your pipeline with qualified prospects.
  • Build a constant stream of case studies of successful partnerships that can help you keep the partners you have and to recruit new ones. (Check out The Rifle Approach.)
  • Create new audiences that can be monetized through corporate partnerships. Stop focusing so much on running expensive, time consuming events. Develop content assets instead.

Even with research capabilities and a sales team, without content marketing your cause marketing will lag without an inflow of new leads and new opportunities for corporate partners. 

4. The Best partnerships Focus on the Stakeholder Experience

One thing that shines through in Checkout Champions is that the best fundraisers are a powerful, positive experience for both employees and the customers. The best programs...

  • Spend additional time educating employees about the cause so they may become authentic front-line ambassadors.
  • Encourage friendly competition among stores.
  • Widen consumer touchpoints to include online and mobile.
  • Prioritize interaction between customers and employees around emotional messages.
  • Adopt creative consumer ‘thank you’ strategies.

Take the example of Panda Express' checkout fundraiser for Children's Miracle Network.

According to Jeff Bronkowski, a director of strategic partnerships at CMN Hospitals, “Panda Express has really internalized fundraising for good causes as an important part of their culture. What started as an internal workplace giving effort has evolved to become a significant in-store program.” Panda associates ask every guest if they’d like to donate to underserved children in their community (either electronically or by using the coin collection box on the counter) and offer a round-up option to customers who hesitate or decline to donate a flat amount.

“The kicker,” Bronkowski adds, “is the bell.” First used in a single California location, the tactic is simple: when a Panda Express customer makes a donation, the cashier rings a bellman’s bell and the entire crew responds with a boisterous “thank you”. When the California location started posting huge fundraising numbers in 2014, leadership sent a film crew to capture the local team’s enthusiastic response to donations and shared it at a 2015 leadership training meeting with encouragement from Co-CEO Andrew Cherng to adopt the practice nationwide. According to Bronkowski, after that point, “Fundraising took off.” and CMN Hospitals saw totals exceed projections for 2015 and stay strong into 2016.

Want to learn more on how to execute an outstanding stakeholder experience? My last Best Cause Marketing roundup features four great examples: Walgreens, Arby's, Big Lots and Jersey Mike's.

5. Top Programs Follow Best Practices...But are Customized to Fit the Business

McDonald's donation box program is a year-round program. Homegoods cashiers asks customers to support The Jimmy Fund over several weeks. But Petco cashiers, via its register pinpad, asks customers to donate year-round. Different programs work with different businesses. You have to test which one will work the best.

Years ago I worked with a chain of bagel stores and our first fundraiser was a charity pinup program. It flopped! The chain had many regular customers who were happy to give, but didn't like being asked every day. Instead of pinups, we switched to donation boxes. Customers and employees were happier and we raise more money!

While customization is important, best practices should be the foundation of any checkout program. They are:

6. Technology is Playing an Increasingly Important Role

From online giving at sites like eBay to pinpad register asks to mobile POS, technology is making giving easier and omnipresent.

Take the example of Best Buys work with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Over the past two years, the company implemented an option to donate directly to the charity via the Best Buy mobile app, in addition to the online donation option at BestBuy.com that generated about $500,000 this past year.

Technology will only play a more important role in checkout charity in the years ahead. Nonprofits would be smart to get ahead of this trend and begin educating themselves on the next wave of innovation, which will certainly include mixed realityartificial intelligence and beacon technology.

7. Cause Marketers Need to Have One Eye On Today, The Other on Tomorrow

Despite the reported bump of 4.5% in monies raised via checkout charity programs from 2014 - 2016, the health of the retail sector has never been more uncertain. Retail is undergoing a massive disruption that will change the sector forever. The retailers we work with today may not be in business tomorrow. The programs that are wildly successful today, may not work as well next year.

As cause marketers, we need to embrace constant disruption. As retail changes, we need to change with it to ensure we are able allies in the evolution (and revolution) of retail.

In April, I asked 26 cause marketing experts what will replace checkout charity. Here's what they had to say!

26 Experts Weigh In On Business Giving in 2022

Are you ready to jump in to the lucrative world of checkout charity? If not, what do you need to get started? I can help!

This post is sponsored by Catalist. Catalist uses smart technology, insightful data and industry expertise to match companies with causes in partnerships that accelerate social change. Learn more about Catalist here.