Restaurants Add Cause Marketing to the Menu

Most of the cause marketing programs I run are with retailers--and with good reason.  They have multiple locations, train their cashiers to up-sell and have lots of foot traffic, which makes them naturals for point-of-sale programs like mobiles.  But in a small city like Boston there are only so many retail chains that have great foot traffic.  The good news is that I work with most of them.  The bad news is that I need more like them!  That said, I've been recently encouraged of by the success nonprofits are having with restaurants.  Three stand out. The first is IHOP Flips for Children's Miracle Network.  The pancake house invited guests to enjoy a free short stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on February 12th.  In return, IHOP guests were asked to make a donation to CMN.  Last year's event raised close to $700,000.  This is a great program for everyone.  Diners get something for free that's cheap for IHOP to provide (pancake batter is cheap, but it's not free and IHOP should be commended for absorbing the expense!) and children's hospitals reap the windfall.

The IHOP program reminds me of another great program currently running at Starbucks stores here in New England.  Now through St. Patrick's Day, Starbucks will donate 25 cents of every Leprechaun Latte sold to Boston-based Jumpstart.  I'm told this annual program raises around $25,000.  This program is super-low maintenance.  Order a Leprechaun Latte and Starbucks will take care of the rest!  Can't get much more turnkey than that.

The last program I've been following is new to Boston, but was launched in New York last year, where I think it raised around $100k.  UNICEF's The Tap Project--a campaign to provide safe drinking water for children around the globe--works like this.  Dine at a participating restaurant between March 16 and March 22 and you'll be asked to donate a buck or more for the tap water you usually get for free.  I like the program because it spotlights something we take for granted: an almost universal faith among Americans that tap water is safe to drink. 

Water isn't the only thing we get for free at restaurants.  Many offer bread (which I usually fill up on before they serve the $25 entree I can't finish).  I'm considering starting my own cause marketing program with restaurants.  Instead of water I'll ask diners to donate a buck or more for the bread they generally get for free or at little cost.  The program would be a great tie-in to our prescriptive food pantry, the only one in the country that is in a hospital.

Targeting restaurants is actually easier for a local nonprofit than for an international charity.  The former better understands the local restaurant scene.  UNICEF wants to extend the The Tap Project into Boston, but so far they've only recruited a handful of restaurants.  It's tough without feet on the ground and local contacts.  That's probably why they've hired Hill Holliday and a local PR firm to help them.  But what local nonprofits lack in size and brand they can make up for with networking and shoe leather.  Develop a program that you can shop from restaurant to restaurant.  You'll cobble together a nice group of participants, and don't be surprised if a couple of the restaurants offer to help you in other ways.  Restaurateurs are very generous...and very savvy. 

While they may have heard of The Tap Project, they know that it's locals like you who will build buzz and drive traffic to their restaurants, and not some Yankee fan making calls from Manhattan.  While UNICEF's intentions are crystal clear, she knows raising dough for you will mean more bread for everyone.