Impact of Loyalty and Brand Relationships on Non-Profits

Over the last two weeks, our country has been transfixed by the destruction Mother Nature and Hurricane Harvey have brought to bear in East Texas and beyond.  We’ve seen countless terrifying pictures, but we’ve also seen tremendous acts of courage, selflessness and generosity.  And with the Northwest facing ravaging wildfires while the Southeast braces for Hurricane Irma, non-profit organizations dedicated to disaster response need – and in some cases, are getting – more support more than ever.

As the team at rDialogue brainstormed last week which non-profit to contribute to in the wake of Harvey, we began to think about the implications of loyalty and relationships on non-profit organizations.  There are multiple ways these relationships can play out, including B2B (brand ties to specific organizations), D2C (direct tie between ‘customers’ and organizations) and B2B2C (brands encouraging and incenting customers to support specific organizations) to name just a few.

Let’s examine these relationships a bit further:

Brand Relationships with Non-Profits

Many brands have long-standing ties to non-profits.  Frequently, these ties are closely related to their business (think LL Bean and the National Park Foundation). Additionally, brands like TOM’S and Warby Parker have made philanthropy part of their business model, donating a product for every product purchased.

In times of need or crisis, we also see brands and organizations making a statement and/or stepping up to the plate to provide support.  To date (which I’m sure is now outdated), “companies have pledged more than $157M to relief efforts” (source: CNN, August 30, 2017) following Hurricane Harvey – and that doesn’t include how much they have matched their employees’ donations.  LBJ Express and North Tarrant Express, an rDialogue client which operates toll roads in Dallas, donated $1 per trip on the LBJ TEXpress Lanes and the NTE TEXpress Lanes on September 2nd to the American Red Cross. 

And donations don’t have to be limited to money: Luby’s Fuddruckers, another rDialogue client in Texas, fed the countless volunteers and emergency personnel from local establishments. 

In other situations, like Charlottesville, we saw Tim Cook pledge $2M against hate: $1M to the Southern Poverty Law Center and $1M to the Anti-Defamation League.

Customer Relationships with Non-Profits

But non-profits can’t rely on corporate donations alone.  They go to great lengths to establish relationships directly with donors (‘customers’) to set up frequency or, ideally, recurring gifts.  And these relationships are often very personal – whether the Humane Society for animal lovers or the Susan G. Komen Foundation for survivors and family members of those affected by breast cancer, the more personal the relationship, the more connected and emotionally invested the donor.

The importance of these direct relationships becomes even more critical when there is an increased need.  For example, when Hurricane Harvey hit, the SCPA and Habitat for Humanity relied heavily on existing donor relationships to provide the additional funding needed to support their efforts, particularly with so much attention being given to larger organizations like the United Way and the American Red Cross.

Brand to Customer to Non-Profit Relationships

Lastly, many brands encourage and, in some cases, incent their customers to support specific causes.  Some brands, like Macy’s, offer customers a discount in exchange for a contribution to a cause or a collection of causes.  These programs go beyond creating good will with customers, encouraging spend and frequency which benefits the brand.  Others allow their loyalty members to redeem their points or miles as a donation to specific charities. 

But in challenging times, this three-way relationship can significantly increase goodwill for all parties involved while also delivering the necessary support.  For example, after Hurricane Harvey, Amazon announced they would match up to $1M in customer donations to the Red Cross.  United Airlines offered MileagePlus members 1,000 bonus miles if they donated to the Red Cross on their website.

So what does this mean for you?

There are several ways brands can help support non-profit organizations either through internal efforts or by engaging their customer base:

Consider what your brand stands for and what your employees believe in.  Find a local or national cause which is interested not only in financial support from your organization, but is also willing to have your employees participate as volunteers, board members or advocates within the community.

Activate your customer base.  Test marketing campaigns which contribute a percentage of sales to a non-profit organization or which provide your customers with a benefit or discount in exchange for a product or financial donation.  You should also consider sponsoring local non-profit events which can broaden your customer base.

Get vocal and involved in times of great need.  Whether you match employee or customer donations, donate money, or donate goods and/or services, get your entire organization involved, including your customers.  Social responsibility is not only expected, it’s becoming an increasingly important factor when consumers determine which brands will receive their loyalty.

Note: rDialogue supports the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the Atlanta Humane Society, and has responded to Hurricane Harvey with a corporate donation and employee-matching donations to Bronston Legal’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.