Last week I wrote about a very successful fundraiser between Kmart and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As part of their annual support of St. Jude’s Thanks and Giving campaign, Kmart raised a whopping $22 million for the Memphis-based children’s cancer hospital. Almost all the money was raised a dollar at a time from customers at checkout.
I asked a representative at Sears, the company that owns Kmart, how the retailer raised so much money. He made sure to highlight the contributions of employees. “Kmart associates were as dedicated as ever consistently reminding and educating our shoppers about the campaign,” he said.
There’s no doubt that – along with customer generosity – employee engagement was critical to the fundraiser’s success. Think about it: the most successful cause marketing fundraisers (pinups, register programs, round-ups, etc.) have a compelling human element to them. Register programs like the one between Kmart and St. Jude involve one person asking another for a donation. “Would you like to donate a dollar to St. Jude Children’s Hospital?”
And it’s not just the Kmart fundraiser. Earlier this year, Cause Marketing Forum published a report on America’s Checkout Charity Champions. The top 60 checkout programs of 2012 raised an eye-popping $358 million. Yep, person-to-person contact plays a vital role in some of cause marketing’s most successful fundraisers. But here’s the bad news: it’s going away.It’s been disappearing for years. To earn a few extra bucks when I was in high school during the 80’s I used to pump gas at a local station. Now, just about every gas station is self-serve. The only interaction customers have is with the touch pad screen.New developments in technology and demands for higher wages are accelerating the replacement of employees with machines and robots.
Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, Michael Saltsman offered some good examples of the employee-less world we’ll soon live in.
- Since customers can check their own prices, compare products and even check themselves out, expect to see fewer sales associates at places like Target, Walmart and Macy’s.
- Say goodbye to waitstaff. Chefs polled by the National Restaurant Association ranked “tablet menus” as the top tech trend for 2014. Airports in locations like New York City and Minneapolis now feature “restaurants” that are waitstaff-free. Europe is already ahead of the game. Three years ago, McDonald’s announced it was replacing human cashiers with touchscreen alternatives at more than 7,000 European locations.
- Even the employees who receive your order in the kitchen are at risk. Saltsman reports on a California company that has a burger-flipping robot that replaces three full-time kitchen staff!
Nonprofits raise hundreds of millions from campaigns involving employees asking customers to donate. What will they do when all the employees are gone?
NONPROFITS AND BUSINESS PARTNERS WILL NEED A COMPELLING DIGITAL ASK.
Since customers will be using smartphones and tablets to checkout, they’ll need an extra incentive to donate. It could be a short cause video that includes a coupon in exchange for views or donations. Businesses will have to build on some of the things they’re already doing to raise money without employee interaction. For example, when you swipe your credit card at Petco, it asks if you want to donate to the Petco Foundation, and won’t let you proceed until you approve or deny a gift. While the credit card terminal lacks the human touch, the upside is that it never forgets to ask!
NONPROFIT BRANDING WILL BE CRITICAL.
As someone who used to work for an organization that was not well known but still managed to raise millions from businesses, I know firsthand how important person-to-person interaction helps fundraising. I used to say that people will give a buck or two to just about anything if someone asks them sincerely and politely. But without the personal ask, customer recognition of the nonprofit and its work will be critical. That’s why nonprofits with well-known brands will have an even greater edge in an employee-less world. Customers will know what they’re giving to. It will mean something to them. If you’re not a well known brand, you need to elevate awareness among your consumers.
NONPROFITS WILL NEED TO DIVERSIFY.
The bottom-line is that nonprofits will raise less from checkout programs. Kmart won’t raise $22 million from just one program. They’ll need to create other fundraisers to make up the difference. For example, maybe they’ll sell a cause product, or designate a donate profits day, or match employee gifts to the charity. Nonprofits will need to be skilled in a number of different fundraisers that involve everything from specialty products to social media to mobile technology. Nonprofits can’t assume that their business partners will have all the know-how.
An employee-less world means that nonprofits will have to fill the hole left by cashiers and servers. The upside is that nonprofits will have a powerful opportunity to craft comprehensive and lucrative fundraisers that will require a major commitment from businesses. The result will be deeper participation and, hopefully, more money.