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Some of the most progressive retail brands have discovered quantifiable marketing success in what may seem like an unlikely place: philanthropy.

It's not what you think. This is not an appeal for increased philanthropy in support of noble corporate citizenship.

To be sure, there are compelling reasons for making charitable commitments—as a means for projecting company values, raising visibility, or giving back to local communities—but there also are strategic ways that philanthropy can affect the bottom line.

It starts with remembering that the key word in "cause marketing" is marketing.

Look no further than one of the Web's most prominent brands—eBay—for a paradigm that is not only harnessing the company's philanthropy to enhance its brand image but also producing ROI.

eBay has built a robust cause-marketing machine within its online platform. The company's program, Giving Works, offers charitable incentives to sellers, giving them the option of donating some of the proceeds of their sales to charity. It also designates what sellers are regular contributors so that potential buyers can support their favorite charity-minded sellers. In effect, eBay has created embedded retail cause marketing to support sellers who want to give back and grow their sales.

The program has lived up to its name—that is, giving works. It not only raised $73 million for various charities last year but also offered good news from a business perspective: The Giving Works program led to a 29% increase in sales among sellers and a two-thirds decrease in customer churn.

The latest consumer research confirms what eBay and socially minded retail marketers already know: Consumers are assimilating charitable elements into their purchasing decisions. More than 90% of consumers say they will buy a product associated with a cause, while 72% would recommend a cause-related brand. And three in four consumers think it's okay for a brand to support good causes while making money.

What we are seeing are the lines between buying decisions and giving decisions being erased. Consumers are extending their charitable reach by making purchasing decisions that are consistent with their own values. They shop with purpose and as a result are both buying and giving more.

The news gets better. Not all companies have to build in this kind of infrastructure to take advantage of philanthropy's capacity to accelerate revenue and create a more fulfilling customer experience. Smart retailers are moving ahead with innovative strategies that align their marketing with philanthropy using existing marketing assets.

With that in mind, here are three easy ways to jump-start your company's cause marketing initiatives.

1. Start Online

Setting up an online-focused campaign can be as easy as a promotional code. Creating a simple promotional code as part of the checkout process enables retailers to see and track how customers respond to various charitable offers. By analyzing that data, companies can apply what they learn toward developing continued growth strategies.

Importantly, online offers should be kept simple, straightforward, and transparent; that is, consumers should readily understand how much and to whom the charitable component is going.

2. 'Test and Learn' Approach

The Web is a practical incubator for testing and refining. Philanthropy as part of a retailer's marketing program should be evaluated in the same vein as other marketing programs. Experiment on a subset of products or consumers, deliver various offers, test messaging, and—most important—measure results.

Whether your strategy is giving a percentage of purchases, promoting special give-back products, or allowing customers to donate their shipping, there are plenty of variable combinations to test. Learn what works, what doesn't, and apply those outcomes to larger-scale efforts.

3. Giving Tuesday

There are also seasonal considerations. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving has come to be known as #GivingTuesday (as part of that stretch that includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday). As the name suggests, the day is set aside to encourage online donations to charity.

Last year, the day involved more than 2,500 partners; online charitable giving topped $10 million. The day is heavily promoted throughout the country and has become an important part of many retailers' marketing strategies. It's a good opportunity to test strategies and use the movement to gain momentum for your efforts.

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For years, charitable giving was viewed as a means for helping others—and it still is. But as more and more retailers have come to discover, philanthropy also can be a means for retailers to help themselves. And the two need not be mutually exclusive.

The integration of philanthropy and marketing holds tremendous potential for not only fueling significant growth in consumer giving but also providing an effective engine for driving sales. In the end, there need not be any distinction between delivering social and business impact.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Chase Cornett

Chase Cornett is director of marketing and brand at PlanG, which helps create brand loyalty through philanthropy. The company and its cause marketing platform help businesses build meaningful relationships with consumers. Reach Chase via chase@MyPlanG.com.

LinkedIn: Chase Cornett

Twitter: @cmcornett