Show Customer Love: Co Donate

In a previous post (Giving is the new taking), I asked the question: What are some ways you are being kinder to your customers?

The terms social responsibility is often used synonomously with charity and volunteering with good causes. Over the last decade, there have been several innovative corporate donation programs popping up, and one characteristic many share is that—they ask customers to co-decide and (often) co-donate. In tandem with that quick-ask is the leveraging of online and/or mobile technologies to make the most of impulse-driven and/or networked fundraising and donating.

There are several ideas below illustrating Co Donating. Some are simple, some are complex. How will these examples inspire you? 

  • Last year, Google launched Project 10100, encouraging the public to submit ideas that help other people, with the most helpful concepts eventually being implemented with a share of USD 10 million. Submissions can fit into a number of categories, including community, environment, health and education, although Google is reluctant to place any restrictions on the ideas, and also offers an ‘everything else’ category. After the submission deadline on 10 October 2008, the proposals were narrowed down to a shortlist of 100. On 27 January 2009, the general public will be invited to vote for 20 semi-finalists, from which five winners will be chosen by an advisory board.
  • Last July, British grocer Waitrose launched a locally-focused giving program that enlists customers’ help in focusing on issues closer to home. Waitrose’s Community Matters program assigns each store GBP 1,000 each trading month to donate among three local organizations such as community groups, schools or local divisions of national charities. Customers nominate the organizations to benefit, and Waitrose’s local democratic bodies make the final selection. Customers are then offered a token each time they shop that can be inserted in any of three Perspex tubes—one for each of the selected charitable groups. At the end of the month, the pile of tokens donated to each organization is weighed and the beneficiaries receive a corresponding proportion of the cash.
  • A similar program at upscale chain Whole Foods, where customers who bring their own bags are rewarded with wooden nickels that can be deposited in boxes assigned for donation to select local charities.
  • It’s a tragic fact that one in five African children die before their fifth birthday from simple causes like dehydration. Basic medicines could save those children’s lives, yet no means has yet been found to make them readily available. The ColaLife project aims to tap into the formidable distribution network of none other than Coca-Cola to get oral rehydration salts and educational materials to the children who need them. The project has tapped the power of Facebook and other social networking tools to amass a group of more than 6,000 supporters, garner widespread media coverage and—at least as important—get the attention of Coca-Cola.
  • One of Scandinavia’s largest retailers, Coop has added a charitable twist to the process of claiming deposits on bottles. The retailer’s collection machines (in over 1,200 of its Danish stores) feature a button that lets customers instantly donate their bottle money to charity instead of collecting it for themselves. The real generous genius here though? The manufacturer of these machines, Norwegian Tomra, who is exporting them (donation button included) around the world now.
  • Tripadvisor recently ran a ‘More than Footprints’ initiative, in which the company promised to donate USD 1 million. Visitors to the site were invited to vote for one of five pre-selected charities. One million votes were cast, with Doctors without Borders ending up receiving most votes and thus the biggest donation. 
  • Last but not least, some examples of what we’ve dubbed ‘adopt-a-consumer’, a ploy that involves well-off consumers buying something for themselves, and then, directly or indirectly, buying a similar product or service for someone who’s, you guessed it, less-well-off:
  • TOMS Shoes sells simple, ethical, slip-on shoes online, and donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold. In addition, TOMS has its own non-profit organization, Friends of TOMS, which allows customers to participate in shoe drops in Argentina and elsewhere, as well as in shoe decorating and give-away parties at American schools. The business distributed 10,000 pairs of shoes in 2006, its first year, while 2008 saw close to 100,000 pairs being donated.
  • Californian eco-urban design firm LJ Urban aims to make giving more concrete—quite literally—by matching sales of homes domestically with funds to build homes in the impoverished African nation of Burkina Faso. LJ Urban has designed a new eco-urban community of 35 LEED ND Certified homes in the urban core of Sacramento. The community is suggestively named Good, and for each home that is sold, LJ Urban has committed to funding the complete training of a West African mason to build sustainable homes for families in Burkina Faso. By partnering with the Association La Voûte Nubienne (AVN), which has already trained about 60 local masons to build durable homes out of earth bricks and mortar, LJ Urban aims to go beyond just providing homes to imparting enduring skills and jobs to the local community.
  • Meanwhile, the most publicized adopt-a-consumer’ initiative—One Laptop per Child‘s ‘Give One, Get One’ program—saw its campaign with Amazon (which ended on 31 December 2008) bring in fewer sales than expected: blame everything from the recession to the growing competition from cheap netbooks. However, the Give One, Get One set-up still offers plenty of good learning (both the dos and the don’ts) if you plan to do something similar this year.
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