Charity Pin Ups: A Love Hate Relationship

If you have visited a department store, grocery store, or pharmacy chain in the past week you have likely come up against a very nice sales associate asking if you would like to donate a dollar or more to their supporting charity. And if you are like the vast majority of people you probably didn't love it. In fact, let me go one step further. You probably found it annoying.

Ok, I said it, charity pin ups are annoying.

Whether you are being asked to give at a Walmart, Toys R Us or Walgreens the ask is basically structured in the same way (add a dollar and put your pin up on the wall). And they are generally premised on the same behavior, namely, guilt. Who wants to be the person in line saying no to a child with autism?

The problem is that as more and more companies run the pin up program, it becomes easier and easier for the consumer to say "no," either because they just gave at another store, or because they are annoyed by how many times they are being asked and the embarrassment of saying "no" has been replaced with feelings of annoyance.

The other problem (in terms of creating sustainable initiatives) is that charity pin ups do very little to help a business drive its bottom line. Customers do not visit a store because of the charity pin up program, nor do they come back more often or buy more. And the sales associates don't love it because they are constantly being rejected by the large percentage of people who say "no," exacerbated by the fact that almost all of the responsibility to sell the charity pin up program is being placed on their shoulders.

The result is a general decline in these programs.

The purpose of calling out the flaws in the way most of the charity pin up programs are conceived is not to rant about their ineffectiveness. Rather, it is to acknowledge that the moment at cash when your wallet is out and you are being asked to make a contribution to a worthwhile charity is a perfect moment to engage people in giving.

So what if it could be different? What if a charity pin up program could generate "profitable good" -- i.e. lots of money for a charity, increase the charity's visibility among consumers and contribute to a company's bottom line?

Accomplishing this feat requires three key changes to the way most programs are conceived today.

1. Change the mindset: from charitable benefit to mutual benefit. Pin up programs need to move from a company's charitable giving/community department to the marketing department. It needs to be recognized as a strategic extension of its marketing initiatives, one that can benefit the charity, the customer and the business. It should drive bottom line sales, whether that's repeat visits, larger purchases or new customers. But doing so requires incenting the customer as a means to drive both more donations and additional purchases.

2. Change the conversation: from the associate asking the customer to the customer asking the associate. Too much pressure is placed on the sales associate to sell the pin up. But what if this could be reversed? What if out-of-store marketing, combined with in-store marketing (including some attention grabbing incentives at cash) could motivate the customer to ask about the pin up program? The result would be a very different dynamic because the sales associate would no longer feel he or she is burdening the customer.

3. Incent the behavior. Give people a reason to contribute beyond the feel good effect. Reward them for making a contribution and tie it back to a repeat visit in store or a reduction on an item (a "win-win"). Incent the customer so he/she may also be interested in learning a bit more about the charity.

Charity pin ups don't have to be annoying. And while not everyone will be convinced by the proposed changes, we can make them more "loved" than "hated".