Doing well by doing good: Year-round lessons from #GivingTuesday

November 30, 2017
 

Amidst the Black Friday / Cyber Monday / “Cyber-week” frenzy, it’s easy for merchants to overlook the charitable event dubbed #GivingTuesday — but that would be a mistake. Socially-responsible brands increasingly win more of shoppers’ business, so merchants should add winning #GivingTuesday strategies to their year-round playbooks to demonstrate goodwill and earn loyal fans.

Now in its fifth year, #GivingTuesday is intended to counterbalance the Thanksgiving weekend shopping spree with a day of philanthropy celebrated on the highly-visible stage of social media. The event has caught on, with one in four Americans aware of it as of last year, according to the Harris Poll.  Donations have increased steadily: in 2016, the event drove $168 million in donations — a 44% increase from 2015 — and this year’s tally is on track to top $180 million.

Given the focus on charity rather than consumerism, it may seem counter-intuitive for merchants to participate in #GivingTuesday. And indeed, with the expansion of Black Friday and Cyber Monday into week-long promotions, many sellers have remained wholly focused on winning holiday shoppers.

But dozens of brands do take up the #GivingTuesday banner, including some of the biggest names in online commerce, such as eBay, which this year pledged to help combat hunger by donating proceeds from the sale of exclusive products and celebrity experiences. A home page promotion and global header banner reminded shoppers to contribute to the cause, which was also promoted heavily on social media.

Not only do such initiatives present an opportunity for companies to give back, but they’re savvy from a business perspective, too. Evidence is mounting that consumers are more likely to buy — and buy more — from brands connected with social causes: 60% of consumers believe doing good should be part of a brand’s core mission, according to Edelman, while Nielsen found that two-thirds of consumers overall and 72% of teenagers say they’re willing to pay more for goods from brands that support social and environmental sustainability.

Furthermore, standing up for causes can boost both acquisition and retention. Edelman found that 50% of consumers say they’ll buy or boycott a brand based on its stance on controversial issues; of those, 67% said they’d try new brands that support their beliefs, while 51% said they’d stay loyal to those brands.

While these numbers are compelling, merchants can get into trouble if they hop on a bandwagon with solely mercenary motives. Consumers believe brands are most obligated to act on issues that affect customers or employees or influence how their products are made or used, Edelman found — which means that without an authentic connection to the brand’s core identity, a charitable campaign can fall flat. While social media is an ideal medium to share successful charitable initiatives, it can also whip up a frenzied backlash for initiatives that hit the wrong notes (Pepsi, anyone?).

So merchants should select their causes carefully, and consider making appeals throughout the year — not just for feel-good effect during the holiday season. Among the winning #GivingTuesday strategies to consider retooling for year-round use:

Find occasions to rally around. While #GivingTuesday is a high-profile event for every kind of charity, specific causes also spotlight other days, weeks, or months for heightened awareness or community action. Merchants supporting those organizations should plan their charitable campaigns accordingly, thereby demonstrating to their core audience that the brand is authentically attuned to the causes they care about.

Model community involvement, not just cutting a check. Small- to mid-sized retailers without big budgets for charitable giving can demonstrate their commitment to causes by showcasing other ways to contribute — from company employees taking volunteer days together to in-store toy or food drives to organizing local fundraising events for selected charities. Such activities not only demonstrate company goodwill, but give causes a wider platform via the merchant’s audience of brand followers.

For this year’s #GivingTuesday, Kibo merchant Francesca’s sent several team members to local animal shelters near the company’s headquarters in Houston to donate supplies and food contributed by employees. The day kicked off with a Facebook Live announcement of the day’s activities, and was documented via an Instagram story that solicited responses from followers. Francesca’s demonstrated a long-term commitment to the cause — the company has been involved in animal rescue efforts since Hurricane Harvey hit months ago — and spotlighted animal welfare for the brand’s 600,000+ social media followers.


Encourage and reward sharing of good deeds. To go even further to shine a spotlight on community activism, merchants can use their platform to share brand followers’ own stories of volunteerism and charity. Incentivizing user-generated submissions with a donation for every entry, or with a prize drawing for a donation to the winner’s charity of choice, gives audience members further cause to share. Such initiatives both encourage followers to do good works, and give merchants heightened visibility among participants’ own friends and followers when they post hashtagged content.

Offer “one for one” purchasing. The “one for one” model pioneered by Tom’s shoes, whereby each time a product is purchased another is donated to a worthy cause, has caught on like wildfire. Sellers of everything from socks to sunglasses have launched in the past five years with the “one for one” promise built into companies’ DNA. But traditional merchants needn’t miss out on the trend: they can offer “one for one” deals  in conjunction with charitable campaigns, using limited-edition items, exclusives, or top sellers to help drive sales and donations.

On #GivingTuesday, children’s clothing manufacturer Carter’s partnered with the Pajama Program to offer a “one for one” drive, with each pajama purchase earning a donation to the organization, which delivers new pajamas and good-night stories to children in homeless shelters, foster care, and other organizations working with at-risk youth.

How did your brand mark #GivingTuesday, and how do you demonstrate social responsibility throughout the year?