More Than Just That Check

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It's not about meeting the bottom line anymore for corporations. You need to be doing well and doing good."

Thus said Shelly Espinosa, manager of community relations at mass merchandiser Target Corp., Minneapolis. She was addressing an audience at the Direct Marketing Association of Washington [DC]'s annual Bridge conference, covered last week by DM News reporter Nicole Smith.

Target is an interesting case study in cause-related marketing. The retailer's stores donate $2 million weekly to local and national nonprofit organizations. Its employees volunteer 345,000 hours a week across 7,000-plus communities nationwide.

"We want to bring more to the table than just that check," Ms. Espinosa said (read "Target Goes Beyond Bottom Line With Red Cross Partnership" on www.dmnews.com, July 17).

We need more companies like Target. Certainly many firms have social responsibility initiatives. And there are those who are passionately committed to causes. Names like Ben & Jerry's and Patagonia come to mind.

As reported in Nicole's article, nonprofit groups received an estimated $1.36 billion since January in corporate sponsorship - up 20 percent from a year ago. Not bad, one would think. Well, compare that generosity with the combined revenue of Fortune Global 500 companies: $18.8 trillion. Admitted, it's apples to oranges comparing U.S. corporate donations with Fortune's list of the world's top revenue generators. But that's just to get a point across.

Corporations, like individuals, owe something to the community they transact with. Some believe a company's preeminent responsibility is only to its shareholders. That's a narrow view. Don't doubt this writer's free-market credentials. He swears by The Economist. But we all live together in this world and share common resources. We owe it to this generation and the next to think of leaving the world a better place than on arrival.

How can direct and interactive marketers help? The most obvious way is to adopt a cause. Cutting a check is easy. Volunteering employee time is even nobler. A corollary to both is to use the company's abilities to aid an altruistic goal.

For example, how about helping local nonprofits use the same segmentation techniques in vogue for mail, e-mail and catalog drops? A charity serving select Midwest states can benefit from a plug on a page in Lands' End catalogs sent to that region, hypothetically speaking. Also, how about loaning your database experts to teach smaller, resource-crunched nonprofits the same segmentation techniques to better acquire new donors or upgrade existing names on the file?

Financial services firms are among the biggest generators of direct mail. How about American Express or Chase giving some space on the back of their envelope to non-political causes dear to the region they're mailing? Think of the goodwill it creates with the recipient and think of the optimal use of that wasted white space. Credit card companies already tug at heartstrings by offering co-branded cards with nonprofits.

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