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What’s the best way to tell my customers about my charitable efforts?

I run a small, but profitable, retail business and have decided that I want to assign a percentage of profit to a local charity. Although publicity isn’t my main reason for doing this, I would like to publicise it to my customers. How can I do this subtly?

Sara Tye writes:

A piece of research in 2006, carried out by IPOS MORI, noted that most businesses do not pay enough attention to their social responsibilities. The reason the public make these negative comments and assumptions about business, is due to their failure to communicate information about the activities they are involved in – so their customers, the local people and of course, the wider public, never find out about them. I am glad you have decided to tell your audiences what you are doing with regards to charity donations and also understand why you want to do this in a subtle way.

Firstly, I’m sure that your customers would probably get involved in your charity work in some way if you asked them. So, as you are on the high street and you have regular footfall into your shop/store, engage your customers personally and see if they might donate too. You can do this through a window advertisement or on the counter at point of sale. This would demonstrate your commitment in social engagement and not just purely promoting that you have given money. 

Secondly, use the things that you already have at hand and that customers recognise, to promote your activity. This means not focusing on new promotional activity to describe what you are doing and using what you already have. Till receipts are a very good way of subtly spreading a message, as most people look at these later or when they are at home. Many retailers use till receipts for promotional purposes, to encourage customers to go back in store and make more purchases. You could use yours to ‘spread the word’.

Retail outlets have high-profile window space. The Body Shop used their windows for 50% of the year to promote good causes and the charities involved were very appreciative of the free advertising this allowed them. 

Why not give your charity the opportunity to do something in your window. You could give them some space for a month and by association you will be demonstrating your relationship and your social commitment without telling everyone what your actual activity was.

Lastly, I think a nice news piece in the local paper and on the radio would really communicate the story of your donation and other work you have done to support the charity.  Get the charity to call the radio or newspapers – not you, so the charity gets a lead story which mentions you, rather than you shouting about your donation to charity.  

Sara Tye is a director at Lawson Dodd and has worked with a wide range of clients including Nokia, Green & Blacks and The Body Shop

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