Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen, wants us all to break the compromises inherent in ‘traditional’ business models and find new ways to reallocate or combine existing resources to solve social problems. That’s just what he did when he created the DC Central Kitchen model back in 1989.
I had the pleasure of hearing Robert keynote at the Idaho Nonprofit Conference last week and am inspired by his market-driven and creative approach to tackling the hard issues of hunger, poverty and homelessness.
Robert opened the talk by saying, “Hello, my name is Robert, and I’m a recovering hypocrite.” He never intended to become a beacon for social change – no, back in the 1980s, Robert was an aspiring night club owner in DC. One night, he was guilted into helping serve meals to the homeless with a local meals-on-wheels program. And that was the start of a lifelong commitment to the cause.
“It’s right and just to feed someone, but that’s just the beginning.”
Robert began to catalog all the existing resources in DC: kitchen space, leftover restaurant food, agencies purchasing food for hunger programs, chefs who could give people jobs and train them in useful culinary skills, volunteers to help with programs, hungry people in need of a hand up. He thought the solution was obvious: rearrange those elements to create a sustainable cycle to feed people and give them opportunities to eventually be able to feed themselves. But the answer was not so obvious to everyone else. In the end, Robert had to build the business himself to prove to the skeptics that it could work.
DC Central Kitchen turns leftover food into millions of meals for thousands of at-risk individuals while offering nationally recognized culinary job training to once homeless and hungry adults. The organization even has its own catering company that provides a source of earned revenue to support other programs.
Now, the graduates of the DC Central Kitchen training program earn a collective $2 million per year – money that is pumped back into the DC economy through rent, food etc… Not only that, the payroll taxes on those salaries return $200,000 to the DC government, proving the program's value to the city and giving DC Central Kitchen a seat at the table to influence policy. Robert made the business case to compliment the emotional appeal of helping the hungry to ensure that his program became indelibly entrenched in the community.
Robert urges all social businesses and nonprofits to focus on three things:
- Know your impact on the economy – prove the business case and claim your seat at the table.
- Get in the marketers mindset to communicate your value in compelling ways.
- Merge ideas, best practices, business models, organizations. Don’t be afraid to rearrange the resources to do more with less.
The following is a guest post from Joe Waters. Joe Waters shows organizations how to use cause marketing and social media to establish, grow and deepen relationships with donors and consumers. He is co-author of Cause Marketing for Dummies and the blogger behind the cause marketing blog, http://selfishgiving.com/. He tweets at
Businesses are abuzz about cause marketing, and rightfully so. It's a powerful marketing strategy that connects cause to commerce to raise money for nonprofits and drive sales for businesses.
Developing and executing a cause marketing program is challenging, but it doesn't have to be hard or complicated. If it is, your interest will quickly wane. Here are five tips to make sure your next cause marketing program isn't your last.
1. Keep your program simple. Choose one that is closely connected with your business and aligned to what your consumers and employees care about. Here are a few ideas:
- Can you incorporate cause marketing into your existing social media outreach strategy? Think: Levi’s Water>Less campaign or Target’s Bullseye Gives program
- Can you reward consumers with a charitable gift with purchase? Think: Clinique’s ‘Happy to Give’ campaign or Legal Seafood holiday gift card program, which donates a portion of sales Boston’s Children’s Hospital
- Can you ask consumers to join you in supporting a cause? Think: UNICEF’s Tap Project that asks diners to include an extra dollar two in their check to support a good cause.
2. Lead with emotion. Regardless of what type of cause marketing program you choose, lead with a strong emotional message that grabs people's attention and tugs at their heart strings. An emotional lead is your vanguard – your best force that will lead your company forward. Slicing through consumer apathy and indecision, it turns the former into interest and latter into resolve.
A great example of a nonprofit spearheading with emotion is The Jimmy Fund, the fundraising arm of Boston’s famed Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. While the mission of The Jimmy Fund is to raise money to fight adult and pediatric cancers, their cause marketing campaigns lead with emotion: sick kids with cancer. The campaigns work because they focus our attention on one child - giving a face to the disease - and frame a call to action that is tangible and relevant to us as individuals. Emotional appeals speak to one person and illustrate the challenge ahead without overwhelming us with statistics and facts – they are personal.
For many years The Jimmy Fund has had a successful cause marketing partnership with movie theaters in the northeast. In 2010 alone, the program raised over half a million dollars. Here’s how it works. Ushers or volunteers collect the change and bills in canisters after moviegoers watch a short trailer on The Jimmy Fund’s mission and services. These trailers are moving and persuasive because they feature the children the institute helps. Watch one my favorites, Strong as Iron, and you’ll see why leading with emotion steals the show.
3. Have FLW. Famous last words are what you want the shopper - and potential donor - to notice and remember above all else. If you choose a point-of-sale program, for example, limit your ask to one sentence. “Would you like to donate a dollar to make sure our kids have parks and playgrounds to play in.” Drive your ask home with a simple, powerful and memorable sentence.
But don’t stop there. Make sure the donor isn’t so swept up in the ask they miss or forget the cause their supporting. Give them a takeaway with all the key details about the program. (Here are a few suggestions on what you should include.) You can also use a QR code, as Whole Food recently did, to link donors to information and to even answer their questions.
4. Strive for a program that feels natural. Naturalness may seem like a strange thing to expect of a cause marketing program. But it’s not when you're like me and have seen so many programs that are forced and unnatural. That’s why it’s important to pick a cause that resonates with you, your employees and customers. Your cause partner is an extension of your brand and makes the inclination to promote and support it, well, natural
5. Choose a cause that’s unselfish. This sounds strange coming from a guy that writes the Selfish Giving blog. But most causes are so focused on themselves, their mission and fundraising that they’ll never stop to think about your business, your welfare or how a cause marketing program can benefit you. The only hand they’ll ever extend is the one to take a check.
Choose a cause that’s committed to your interests right from the start and treats your business like a real partner. The nonprofit to choose is the one that wants you BOTH to succeed and has a plan to succeed.
Beware the selfish nonprofit. Partners need to be committed to mutual success. “Together wing to wing and oar to oar.” You’ll be amazed how far and fast you can go when you pull together.