Today, A Day Made Better is celebrating its fifth anniversary by surprising 1,000 teachers across the country with $1,000 in school supplies. The cause marketing program has been a big hit for teachers and office supply chain OfficeMax.
The program is working to address a serious issue: teacher-funded classrooms. It's estimated that on average teachers spend $1,000 out of their own pockets to offset school budget shortfalls and classroom shortages to secure much-needed classroom supplies.
But the man who created this ambitious cause marketing program - and many other unique marketing initiatives such as Elf Yourself - will have a different perspective on the event this year. Bob Thacker is the new executive director of Miami-based Adopt-A-Classroom, the nonprofit OfficeMax partnered with to create A Day Made Better.
Bob is charged with focusing on elevating the organization’s profile, attracting partners and celebrity support and expanding its ability to fund teachers and their classrooms nationwide. The nonprofit has raised $16 million since 1998.
I caught up with Bob recently as he was in route to a conference in Berlin. Moving to a relatively small nonprofit is a big change for Bob, a man who has spent 40 years with big brands such as OfficeMax, Target and Sears. How did he view the move and the challenges ahead for Adopt-A-Classroom?
How did you feel moving from a big company to a small nonprofit?
"I'm at a point in my life where I really wanted to give back, and Adopt-A-Classroom is a great organization. Moving from the for-profit world to the nonprofit world is easier than you might think. Regardless of where I worked in the corporate world, I always had to make something out of nothing. And I feel like I have a leg-up at Adopt-A-Classroom because it's been around since the late 90's and has a long-standing partnership with OfficeMax, Jones New York and The Coach Foundation."
Bob, you've worked with so many nonprofits through the years, what sticks in your mind as something every nonprofit has to do."
"It's so important for nonprofits to have clarity on what they do and what their mission is. If a funder asks "What do you do? What do you need?" every nonprofit should have a clear and compelling answer. I was amazed that some nonprofits were not able to answer such simple questions."
Cause marketing is often described as win-win-win. A win for the consumer, the company and the cause. Are nonprofits getting this message?
"They're learning, but the lesson isn't over. Nonprofits expect charity from companies. And that's reasonable of them, but nonprofits also need to extend charitability to companies. Nonprofits need to recognize and understand that for-profits need to see a return, a benefit from some of their work with nonprofits."
What do you think is one of the most important ingredients for cause marketing success?
"The relationship is key. A partnership will never flourish with a transactional relationship of a company just giving a cause money. OfficeMax and Adopt-A-Classroom have a relationship that transcends the simple exchange of money, promotion and school supplies every year. That's what makes it special. That's what makes the relationship last."
Now that your Executive Director at Adopt-A-Classroom, is there an area you plan to focus on?
"We could definitely use a better presence online. Social media will also be key. That said, we don't plan to be active on these platforms so we can collect subscribers, likes and followers. We plan to build a community. Adopt-A-Classroom seeks to be a leader in improving education in America. But we can't do that alone. We need a community of supporters that talk to us and to each other. That's where social media can be helpful."
It was great speaking with Bob. He's been a leader and mentor in the cause marketing field for many years. I'm looking forward to watching and learning from what he accomplishes at Adopt-A-Classroom. A Day Made Better is behind him. But Bob has many better days ahead.