In Defense of the Humble - Yet Incredibly Annoying - Charity Pinup

charity pinups

Alyson Genovese has written a thoughtful piece on the Realized Worth Blog on re-thinking charity pinups. 

According to Alyson, charity pinups have several major liabilities.

  • Charity pinups and the millions they raise allow companies to pad their philanthropic totals. Companies profit from other people's money - and not from their own giving or generosity.
  • Yes, pinups are lucrative, but they make companies look lazy. Where's the passion? Where's the commitment? It generally can't be found at the register.
  • Customers. Hate. Pinups. Point taken.
  • For all the money charity pinups raise, how much do they really help a company's brand? Self-serving, lazy, hated. The case for charity pinups is literally paper thin. How much good can come from them?

Alyson goes on to explain how charity pinup programs could be improved. She has some good ideas. I have a better idea: let's get rid of them altogether. Here's how it could happen.

Charity Pinups are The Go-To Cause Marketing Fundraiser (For Now)

Take a good hard look at this cause marketing fundraiser matrix, which I posted first last week. Do you see charity pinups in the upper right-hand corner? They are undoubtedly the most lucrative type of cause marketing fundraiser - and one of the easiest to execute.

charity pinup fundraiser

Whether they are done locally or nationally, they are a big winner for nonprofits.

Think you can raise as much money with register fundraisers that don't involve a verbal ask from the cashier? You'll be sorely disappointed. The "ask" makes the difference between a five-figure program and a six or seven-figure program.

Think you can raise as much money with a percentage-of-sales fundraiser? Think again. Ultimately the money raised from these fundraisers come from the company and not from the consumer. In short, you'll never raise as much money with % of sales.

Think you can raise as much money with a hashtag fundraiser or Facebook contest? No way. It's like the difference between playing slots and playing blackjack. The odds aren't in your favor.

Except for a few other tactics in the upper right quadrant, the rest of the tactics on the matrix are five-figure fundraisers - at best - for most organizations. 

A 2013 survey conducted by Cause Marketing Forum found that point-of-sale consumer donation programs like charity pin-up campaigns raised $358 Million from 62 corporate programs nationwide in 2012.

That's a lot of dough! Until something better comes along, our goal should be to maximize the effectiveness of charity pinups. Fortunately, there are plenty of good ideas out there from talented cause marketers like Alyson.

  1. Consider a "gift-with-purchase" model. (Alyson)
  2. Get employees to care. (Brady Josephson)
  3. Change the conversation from the cashier asking the customer to vice versa. (Phil Haid)
  4. Incentivize consumers (Alyson, Brady, Phil)
  5. Let customers know about the impact they are having. (Brady)
emerson on charity pinups

The problems with charity pinups occur when people don't care. That's when employees, customers and management get annoyed and the nonprofit is left unhappy. Of course, this is true of any fundraiser. A donation box pushed off to the side of the checkout counter doesn't say "we care" either.

I'd have to ask the "Father of Cause Marketing" Bruce Burtch when the first customer begrudgingly gave a dollar at checkout for a charity pinup, but they've been around for at least 40 years. That's a long time, and I bet we'll see them around for at least another 5-10 years.

For me, the replacement fundraiser for charity pinups needs to meet three criteria.

  • It needs to be as successful and lucrative as charity pinups. We're talking about a fundraiser that can raise hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
  • It needs to tap the money of consumers, not companies. The corporate checkbook is small. The collective wallet of customers is very large.
  • It ideally happens when the customer is "checking out." The combination of customers having their wallets open and being asked by the cashier for a donation is a powerful one-two punch.

So let's look at our best alternative to charity pinups.

Beacon Technology 

Image via Maxwell Henderson, Staff Artist

Image via Maxwell Henderson, Staff Artist

Beacon technology is "micro-location" as it's designed to work in a physical location (like a store) with your phone - specifically with your retail apps. With a Beacon transmitter, businesses can better interact with smartphone-toting consumers in or near their stores. Sure, they can push coupons to them when they walk in the door, but they can also give them one when they linger in a particular aisle or over a specific product.

Companies can even push reminders to consumers. "Last time you were on our website you were searching for a blend of coffee that we now have in stock."

The tie-ins with cause marketing are endless, especially as more retailers adopt services like Apple Pay so shoppers can make purchases directly from their phones.

Take a retailer like Macy's that has already used Beacon technology. Every year, Macy's hosts its signature Believe campaign to benefit Make-A-Wish.

With Beacon technology:

  • Macy's can welcome customers to the store and direct them to Santa's mailbox
  • Macy's can encourage children to compose in-store letters to Santa from their mobile devices.
  • Macy's can identify products that support Make-A-Wish.
  • Macy's can ask shoppers for a donation, which they can make right from their phones.

Of course, the last option is the one we are most interested in. But how will it replace charity pinups and meet the criteria I established above?

  • If done well, beacon fundraisers can raise the millions that charity pinups do. But a critical factor remains the ask from the cashier. You can have all the mobile pings in the world, but if there isn't someone to ask the question "Do you want to donate a dollar to..." Beacon fundraising will be a glorified register program, which are different and won't raise millions. Fortunately, other mobile interactions within the store - as shown with Macy's - will prime the customer to give. "I see that you're a supporter of the Children's Miracle," the cashier will ask. "Would you like to donate today?"
  • It's easy to envision that customers - not cashiers - will ask for the donation at the register. But will customers be motivated to ask? Will social good be so ingrained that people will do it as automatically as they ask for a receipt?
  • Another wrinkle in the future of charity pinups is store automation. Nonprofits raise hundreds of millions from employees asking customers to donate. What will happen to these millions when all the employees are gone? Since customers will be using smartphones and tablets to check out, businesses will need a compelling digital ask. The message to nonprofits is clear: build your brand, or else.

Notwithstanding my passionate defense of charity pinups, The reality is that nonprofits will probably raise less from charity pinups.

Kmart won’t raise $22 million from just one program.

They’ll need to create other fundraisers to make up the difference. For example, maybe they’ll sell a cause product, or designate a donate profits day, or match employee gifts to the charity. Nonprofits will need to be skilled in a number of different fundraisers that involve everything from specialty products to social media to mobile technology. 

The upside is that businesses and nonprofits will have a powerful opportunity to craft comprehensive and lucrative fundraisers. The result will be greater and deeper participation and, hopefully, more money.