By Published On: October 8, 2018

Last week I received an email from a restaurant that I go to occasionally. The subject line was “_____ Cares about Smile Network International”. Cool. Like many others, I like companies that care about something beyond their own business needs. I eagerly opened the email to find out more.

There were four parts to the email. The first part showed images of the children who are helped by the charity, the next part tried to explain a “specialty menu” “where a percentage of the sales are in turn donated to the organization!” (highlighting an image of avocado toast). The third part had a low-resolution logo and a paragraph about the Smile Network with an unlinked web URL and phone number. And, finally, there was a large red-on-black “RESERVE A TABLE” button. This made me curious about how others would react.

So, I took an impromptu, unscientific poll – forwarding the email to mostly marketers to get a quick response. I asked, was the email:

  1. Appropriate, think it’s great. Reason?
  2. Inappropriate, don’t do it. Reason?
  3. Neutral/don’t care.

Here’s a sampling of the wide-ranging reactions:

“…it’s inappropriate. I don’t like being told which charities I need to support…”

“I’m always leery of trying to sell directly off of charity, natural disaster etc.  It’s a fine line.  I was good with this message all the way until the big red “Reserve a Table” box at the end.”

“I’m pretty neutral on this…Though I don’t personally attribute much of the good will to the company since they aren’t explicitly donating on their own…it doesn’t really have the desired effect as a marketing campaign…”

“Guess my resulting answer would be 3. At least it contributes $$ to the cause.”

“It can be either appropriate or inappropriate depending on how it is executed.  If it truly seems that the charity will benefit, I’m good with it. If it seems too self-serving to the business or like they are trying to capitalize on someone else’s misfortune, then it is a turn-off.  It can be a fine line.”

“We keep hearing how a brand’s commitment to giving back and support causes is important to people, so from that perspective I think it’s great. I’m a little uncomfortable with the giant “Reserve a Table” button…if they really meant it they would have made the charity’s website clickable or used the button to send people to a donation page.”

“I like it in theory, but it has some snags…too long and I feel there’s a little guilt involved in saying if you order this item, we help a kid, if you order something else, we don’t…”

Honestly, they had me at Smile Network and lost me at avocado toast. Here are 5 considerations before putting your brand’s charitable giving out there for all to see:

  1. Not everyone will agree with your choice of charity. You have to be comfortable with that and make sure the choice fits with your company’s brand, mission and culture.
  2. People like organizations that are charitable but they don’t like being manipulated. Be careful not to slide over the line of promotion with your communication of charitable giving. In this case, it was appropriate to mention the special menu, but 86 the image of avocado toast. (Was it a not-so-subtle move to attract Millennials?)
  3. Don’t sell. Skip or downplay the overt “RESERVE A TABLE” or “Buy Stuff Now” button. The large red button makes the email feel self-serving when they really are doing a nice thing. They could have included a text link for people to view their special menu and had a reservation button there.
  4. If you believe in a cause enough to send out a communication, show full support. Include a clickable link to their website or donation page.
  5. Don’t make participating too complicated or go on and on about how great you are. Let the giving (mostly) stand on its own. Having a special menu complicates things. Why not give a portion of all sales? You can always cap the amount you give.

Charitable giving is an important aspect of being a great brand. Be thoughtful about how you do it and it will be a positive brand attribute.

About the Author: Megan Devine

Megan Devine
Megan taps into her left-brain logic and right brain creativity—steering the business, bantering with her team, and strategizing on client work. She says it’s her dream job and we believe her. Using her passion and knack for understanding complex connections in business and marketing, she collaborates to create love between brands and customers. She possesses expertise and experience that only comes from persevering in the ever-changing marketing agency world. Megan co-founded d.trio marketing group, now cat&tonic, in January of 2000 and took sole ownership in 2019. Her vision, support, and sheer stubbornness got us through 9/11, the great recession, and a pandemic. She has judged the International ECHO Awards since 2005, has consulted for several organizations, and serves on several boards. Educated at Carleton College, she learned the importance of critical thinking for success. At home she learned the value of a good story.
Create an image with words and double the impact
Picture Yourself “Here”. How Instagram has Changed Travel.