Quick bursts of promotion and gimmicky campaigns can certainly help raise much-needed funds for charities, but wouldn’t it be great if the people running these campaigns had a genuine, authentic connection to the cause? Wouldn’t there be a much greater impact if businesses commit to long-term support, and worked hard behind the scenes to make that happen?
In a world where our collective BS radar is finely tuned, it’s time for the way we approach giving to change. Genuine care, integrity and authenticity matter more than ever in our leaders, especially when it comes to giving to good causes.
Thankfully, there are a whole host of ways that retailers can authentically give to charities and not-for-profits, and in doing so, make genuine, lasting change. Here’s how to do it in a way that will actually make a difference – not merely a good Instagram post.
Choose charities that align with your brand values
The best way to approach charitable giving in an authentic and relatable way is to choose ones that fit well with the values that your business, brand, or label already stands by. And if your retail brand doesn’t already have a fixed set of values, it’s time to find them.
Brand values are the core beliefs that your company stands for – the values that define how your business operates, makes decisions, and appears to the outside world. These values should be baked into your brand essence, and play a part in everything you do, including which charities you choose to support.
Just like choosing a charity to work with, brand values must be authentically chosen and not merely selected from a random pile of vague, nice-sounding ideas. Never take values from the existing culture and attempt to retrofit them into your own brand. Customers can smell the inauthenticity a mile away, and if you merely pick a selection of unrelated ideas at random, your brand will never truly ‘own’ its values. And unless you can own your values authentically, any charitable work will similarly ring false.
Have a think about the everyday work that your business does. Who are you trying to help? What difference are you trying to make in the world? What problems are you trying to solve? Answering these questions should help you better define your values, which will in turn help you find like-minded charities and not-for-profit organisations to work with.
Ask the same questions of the charities you’re considering working with, too. Make sure to do your background research on your chosen organisation, including ensuring they’re transparent about their donors, how their donations are used, and how effective they are at helping their chosen cause.
Do the work before telling the world about it
Another key factor in authentic charity work is to help before you tell anyone about it. After all, if the only reason you’re doing something positive is so you can tell the world about it, are you really acting with the best intentions? Spend a bit of time getting to know the charity or not-for-profit organisation, understanding how your donations, time and resources are helping, and getting to know the team behind it before you start telling the world about your work.
That way, when your business does finally choose to show its support in a more public way, you’ll be better informed on the issue and better able to communicate the importance of the work the organisation is doing.
For example, let’s say your clothing label chooses to support the charity Dress for Success, Before going public with a fundraising drive, why not first prove you care with ongoing donations and volunteer leave for staff? That way, your fundraising drive will feel more legitimate, and customers and partners will be more inclined to show their own support. Lead by example, and in turn, you’ll encourage other businesses and customers to do the same.
Give publicity the back seat
Whatever way you choose to support a charity or not-for-profit, make sure that your primary focus is always on making the biggest difference. Publicity, branding, and building your business’s reputation should always be a secondary thought, and should never be the primary factor in any action you take.
Tobacco giant Philip Morris provides the perfect case study on what not to do: in 1999, the business spent $75 million on charitable contributions including hunger relief, domestic violence programs, and support of the fine arts. It then proceeded to launch a $100 million advertising campaign to publicise all the charitable giving it had been doing.
As Cliff Douglas, an attorney who battles tobacco companies, told Prospect.org in 2001: “They’re taking blood money and using it to assuage people’s hostility to their company. That money comes off the backs of millions of addicted smokers. It’s almost too sickening to comment on.”
Clearly, Philip Morris had decided that publicity was much more important than making any kind of real difference in the world. Over two decades on, it’s safe to say that the tobacco giant’s fake kindness didn’t do much to change anyone’s minds on the company’s real intentions.
Choose long-term over fleeting campaigns
When it comes to charitable giving, consistency is key. Always favour long-term partnerships over short moments that might only last for one campaign – or a single evening. By sticking with the same partner for years, customers will naturally begin to associate your brand with your chosen charity, and the positive reputation will automatically rub off on you: no over-the-top publicity stunts required.
This is the same reason why it’s best to stick to a small number of causes, or even just a single cause. Throwing your weight behind a whole host of different causes every time is confusing and less effective than choosing one or two and sticking to them like glue. Being too casual with your support is usually a huge red flag that makes your brand appear disingenuous and disconnected to the issue. How can a retailer truly make a difference if it’s time, money, and energy is being split in 100 different ways?
Prepare to feel uncomfortable
Finally, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. In order to make meaningful change and move others to action, there’s a high chance that you will feel unsettled by the things you will learn and the stories you will hear. You might even start to question your own business, or uncover negative practices within your own organisation as a result of the information you might learn. This is a good thing!
The good news is that any retailer who is prepared to act with care, compassion and commitment will ultimately be making a genuine, positive change in the world – no matter how challenging it might be to get there. No-one ever said it would be easy.