It’s becoming more and more common – businesses contributing to the common good while increasing sales and making their customers feel generous in the process.
Called cause marketing, it can take different forms – donating a percentage of sales, giving a discount for a donation, rounding up a payment with the difference to be donated or selling an item to benefit a nonprofit to draw customers into the store.
“My husband had seen it in other businesses,” said Blair Matlock, who owns Matlock Furniture and Mattress Store with her husband, Walter. “It was always part of our business plan.”
The Matlocks held a promotion this year where customers could get discounts ranging from 15 to 25 percent based on the amount they donated to the Durango Education Foundation – 15 percent for a $100 donation, 20 percent for a $200 donation, 25 percent for a $300 donation. By the end of the event, the Matlocks had raised more than $11,000 for the foundation, which administers scholarships and makes grants to Durango School District 9-R projects, schools and teachers.
A number of educators – present and former – bought items at the store during the promotion.
“Most people really liked the idea,” Walter Matlock said. “They’d say things like ‘That’s a great cause, I’d like to be part of it,’ or ‘I needed a mattress anyway, thank you for doing this.’ Some retired teachers who hadn’t even taught in Durango schools were excited to participate.”
While the promotion may or may not have increased foot traffic to Matlock Furniture and Mattress, sales were definitely healthy when the promotion was running, he said.
“People either bought more expensive items because they saved on the discount,” he said, “or bought more than they originally intended by adding items to their purchase.”
Choosing a nonprofit to support was easy for the Matlocks. Blair Matlock’s father, Pat Murphy, has served on the DEF Board of Trustees for decades, and her sister, Brady Rowland, is on the board now, too.
“We’ve partnered with four different businesses in past 12 months, each in a different way,” said Durango Education Foundation Executive Director Elizabeth Testa, “and it’s been immensely satisfying.”
In addition to the support from the Matlocks, the foundation has benefited from efforts by the Durango Mall, and last Christmas and this year received support from Sticks & Stones Handmade. The boutique sponsors a display of artist-made Christmas ornaments, the sales of which benefit the DEF. Getting education supporters into the relatively new store – the business is several years old, but finishing its second year at its current location on Main Avenue – increases familiarity, awareness and, the retailer hopes, sales.
The success of cause marketing isn’t only money-related, Testa said.
“We helped facilitate Maria’s (Bookshop) drive,” she said, “which gave us the nonmonetary benefit of feeling really excellent about helping get books into the hands of children.”
Maria’s book drive for the La Plata Family Centers Coalition and the Boys and Girls Club of La Plata County is one of many causes Maria’s supports throughout the year. Shoppers pick a child from a tree, with a first name and the child’s interests, then find a related book either on their own or with staff suggestions. They will receive a 15 percent discount on the book purchased. But purchasing just one book at the popular bookstore may be like eating one Lay’s potato chip, so increased store visits may well add to additional sales.
Other giving variationsAt Nature’s Oasis, customers receive a wooden token as they check out to be put in one of three containers representing nonprofits that will receive a donation. The business cycles through numerous nonprofits during a year, so no single nonprofit scores significant funding – the Animas Museum, for example, received about $35 this year. But by the end of the year, the organic grocer has given away quite a bit of money.
Some companies, such as La Plata Electric Association offer round-up programs to customers. Customers round up their electric bills each month, with funding going to the La Plata Electric Round Up Foundation. The goodwill generated for the co-op may be as valuable as any increase in sales.
Since its formation in 1996, the foundation has given more than $1 million to agencies and organizations in Archuleta and La Plata counties.
Purgatory Resort has held Locals Benefit Days for several years – the first one this ski season takes place Sunday. The resort selects four nonprofits annually, which will split the proceeds from the designated days at the end of the season. Skiers can take advantage of discounted lift tickets, and the organizations get the chance to spread information about their causes to a wider audience.
The same opportunity applies to the Rochester Hotel’s Secret Garden concert series in the summer. Selected nonprofits receive a share from the gate fees from the concerts plus any tips, and concertgoers enjoy favorite music groups in the verdant garden, learning more about the nonprofits and the Rochester Hotel.
A big business effortIt’s not only small businesses taking advantage of engaging customers’ sense of generosity to increase sales.
The Animas Museum participates in both the Amazon Smile Foundation and City Market Value Card programs, where supporters can select a charity they want to support, then the nonprofit receives a donation based on the amount of money spent at each business.
“It’s not all that great, but every little bit helps,” said Sherry Bowman, executive director of the museum. “I haven’t seen a check from City Market since I started about a year ago.”
The Amazon Smile program, which donates 0.5 percent of the price of eligible purchases, brought the museum $73.82 in 2016. The retailing giant includes about 1 million 501(c)3 registered nonprofits in the program.
“We promote signing up in our quarterly newsletters, and that number could really go up if more people signed up,” Bowman said.
The success of cause marketing, like any other kind of business promotion, depends on creating an offer that meets customers’ needs and supports a cause they value. Books for kids at Christmas? Education? Causes Durangoans feel connections to give the promotion more oomph.
“Brady’s two children attend 9-R schools, and our children will as well,” Walter Matlock said. “Blair’s dad attended Durango schools, and so did she and Brady. Our family has received benefits from 9-R schools on many levels for many generations, and this is our opportunity to bolster the school district. It’s a win for customers, a win for our business and a win for our community.”