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Crafting THE Ultimate Charity Event

Participating in cause marketing helps a worthy cause and promotes your business. Here's how to do it right.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (March 7, 2011)

As retailers, you're used to competing for the customer’s wallet; you plan several promotions and events throughout the year in order to build traffic and sell more merchandise. But nowadays, you not only need to compete for the customer’s wallet, but for their hearts as well. That's why some of the events on your promotional calendar need to focus on cause marketing.

1. Choose a Cause; Choose a Date
Sometimes you choose a cause, and sometimes the cause chooses you. Perhaps you have been personally impacted in some way, so you know right away which charity needs your help. Or, perhaps you’re open to new causes. You might check with your vendors to see if they support a particular cause -- they will be strong partners later. Give your local chamber of commerce a call to inquire about your community’s favorite charity. Keep your eyes open for neighborhood calls for help, and ask your customers what’s important to them. And, make sure that the date(s) you choose for your event does not conflict with another major event in your community. After all, one of your goals is a big turnout.

2. Create Your Promotional Event
Your choice of event is only limited by your imagination. Order pizza for all and gather your staff together for a brainstorming session. Here are some ideas we’ve come up with that might work for you:

Parking Lot Olympics: Imagine games of various challenge levels right in your own parking lot. Customers pay $1 to try to assemble a floral arrangement or create a wreath in less than five minutes. Set up an easy-to-maneuver obstacle course and a game to toss ping-pong balls into fishbowls. Throw in a few “Guess and Win” games, such as one where people guess the number of pennies in a jar and win a prize. Build a “Toilet Toss,” where players lob a rubber ball into an old toilet you’ve gussied up to look like a work of art. Entry fees for each event cost $1 per guess/race/contest or six chances for $5. Consider three categories per contest: one for the men, one for the ladies, and another for children.

Children’s Chain for Charity: Here, local children set up shop at a table near the front of your store. Give them pre-cut strips of construction paper because they’re going to create a giant paper chain. Customers pay $1 to add a link -- let them add a personal message if they like. Do this each weekend for a month. At the end of the month, invite a representative from your chosen charity to come to your store. Surround the rep with the kids and wrap him in your paper chain before you present him with your cash donation. This is a definite photo opportunity! See if a Scout troop will be in charge of creating the chain, and maybe get another partner to donate an amount equal to the finished length of the chain.

Create for a Cause Marathon: Picture a bunch of creative types in your front windows making items of your choice for hours, even days. They can cross-stitch, knit, create floral arrangements, crop or paint -- your store type will dictate what they create. Customers can pledge a dollar for each hour of the marathon, or you can “Keep ‘em Creating for the Cause” as long as the pledges keep coming in. Auction the items off at a fun event in your store and donate the money to your charity.

Create for a Cause “Rocking Grandmas”: This is similar to the above event but with a twist. Get (or borrow through a furniture retailer you can partner with) a bunch of rocking chars for your store and put them outside the front door. Then invite customers to dress up in traditional grandmother attire and create anything they’d like for the cause while they rock—it could be knitting, crocheting, drawing, etc. Add a few extra rockers for folks who happen to walk by and want to participate. You can even move your rockers around town for extra exposure. Your rockers can represent your store in malls, banks, restaurants -- just about anywhere! Just make sure accompanying signage clearly states the cause and includes info on your business.

Handcrafted with Love Contest: Have customers make something in the craft of their choice and bring it to your store to be publicly displayed. Customers choose a winner (or winners if you do categories) by popular vote, and the winner is awarded a prize, perhaps a gift certificate to your store. At the end of the contest, you can sell or auction the entries and donate what you make to your cause.

Big Night Out for a Big Cause: Host a fabulous open house in your store complete with food, entertainment, demos, make-it/take-its, prizes, and giveaways. Invite other businesses to participate as well: Pamper your guests with manicures and pedicures, have a fashion show, host mini-seminars on various topics and more. You can stretch this event into several events by doing one night for ladies, another for couples, one for singles, one for pet lovers, even a kids’ day. We recommend that you sell tickets to your event. Charge a lower price when the ticket is purchased in advance, slightly more if purchased at the door. People tend to show up if they’ve paid for their ticket in advance. Even a nominal fee, like five bucks can help ensure their presence.

Lunch Break for a Cause: Plan a special lunch-time learning event. Sell tickets and serve up some box lunches while you or another expert demonstrates floral-arranging tips, framing, wreath-making, home decorating, whatever! Customers can create while they eat and proceeds go to your charity of choice. Give them Bounce Back Coupons to bounce them back to your shop when they can stay longer.

3. Start a Tradition
A one-time event is good, but a one-time event that becomes an annual event is even better. Back in 2002, Camille and John Akin, owners of Ever After Scrapbooks in Carlsbad, California, began a new tradition when 55 people participated in their first 24-hour Survivor Crop. It’s a highly anticipated event: over the past six years the Akin’s Survivor Crop has earned $233,000 for the San Diego Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the National MS Foundation. Pretty amazing for an event that began in a tent in the store’s parking lot!

4. Set a Goal
Setting a dollar amount of how much you’d like to raise will help keep everyone focused on what’s important. As Chief Keeper of the Event, your goal will help keep you on track. It will also help keep everyone motivated to participate.

5. Plan, Plan, Plan, Plan, Plan!
Did we mention that you need to have a plan? You have lots of choices to make: Will your event be one day or held over several days? Will it happen during regular store hours or on a special evening? Will you send personal invitations to a select group of special customers or is your event open to the general public? Can you comfortably fit a large number of people in your store at one time or will you have to move your event to another location? How many staffers will need to be on duty to properly serve customers? Will you have in-store specials? How about refreshments and entertainment? And don’t forget about door prizes and raffles.

6. You Can’t Do This All By Yourself
Make a detailed list of things to do, and then assign a store associate to each item on your list. If you don’t have enough staff members, ask your regular customers to pitch in. We’ve seen many customers step up to the plate and volunteer. Trust us, they’ll be glad to help!

7. Spread the Word
Begin to market your event at least six weeks before its start date. You can use bag-stuffers to get the word out, send email blasts, talk it up on your blog, hang signs in your windows or even run an ad. Ask your charity to advertise your event as well. And don’t forget to encourage customers to spread the word! You know how that works: we tell a friend who tells two friends who tell four more friends, etc. Another really cool thing to do: Put a huge bow in your cause’s color over your front door. We’ve seen this and it’s incredible. People—and reporters—come to the store just to see the big bow.

8. Alert the Media
Alerting the media to your wonderful event will involve professionally written press releases. You will want to send out a press release prior to your event and again just before your event. You will also want to send a follow-up press release after your event. You can fax, e-mail or use the US Post Office to get your message out. Call around to collect contact names and to find out each outlet's preferred method to receive PR. If you mail your press release, we recommend you throw in some candy—food always gets their attention! You may even want to follow up with a telephone call. If you need help creating a press release, drop us an e-mail and we’ll send you our easy-to-use template.

In-store events of any kind are easy to talk about and hard to do, but they are necessary today in order to compete. So as you fill in your promotional calendar for the rest of the year and beyond, be sure and pencil in a few cause-marketing events. Remember: Your good deeds are good for your business.

K&B At the Yarn Market News Retail Conference

Rich and Geoganne will lead a seminar, "The Crackle Factor: Taking Your Business Off Auto Pilot" at the annual Retail Conference sponsored by Yarn Market News. The conference is Mar. 13-15 in Portland, OR. For info, visit www.yarnmarketnews.com.

(Note: Meetings & Conventions magazine took a survey of meeting planners asking them to name their favorite speakers/keynote presenters – and Kizer & Bender make the list, along with such luminaries as Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Mike Ditka, Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jay Leno, Colin Powell, and others. To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)

KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

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