Virtue: Why making an impact isn’t just for Earth Month
The theme this Earth Day (22nd April) is ‘Invest in Our Planet’ so what better way to kick off the month than talking to a man who helps companies do just that, through charitable giving.
We sat down with Westen MacIntosh, CMO at Virtue, to find out more about why giving through a company is important, how companies can make decisions about how to give (and who to give to) and why this type of giving should not be limited to Earth Day, or Earth Month.
Q: Why is it important that businesses make charity donations part of their year-round strategy rather than just a one-off campaign?
Good question, but to answer that I’d like to step back for a second. The best place to start is ‘Why is it important for businesses to give to a cause at all?’ Why would a business want to do this?
The answer is that giving is good for your business. Cause Marketing is a big term in the US and Canada, and we will be hearing more about it in the UK in the next few years.
Instead of spending money on regular marketing activities, cause marketing is when a business chooses to spend its budget on something impactful – this could be a plastic offsetting initiative or donating to a charity. One of the earliest examples of Cause Marketing and how powerful it can be was from American Express in the 1980s. The Statue of Liberty in New York City was in a state of disrepair. So, American Express ran a marketing campaign ‘For Liberty’s Sake’, where they said, ‘We’re going to give X amount from every single transaction to help restore the Statue of Liberty.’ Over the course of the campaign, they raised 1.7 million dollars for the initiative. They also saw a huge uplift during the campaign with credit card usage increasing by 17% and an almost 27% increase in new card activations.
It makes perfect sense, people who were going to pay cash to buy everyday items thought ‘let’s use our Amex card instead because every time we use this, we’re going to be supporting the Statue of Liberty.’
It was a great marketing campaign and really helped improve their brand. With so many players online, it is incredibly difficult to beat the competition. Think of a company like Amazon, they can afford to take losses to own a market – so you will never beat them on price – but you can beat them on brand and company values.
There’s a great study that came out in 2022 from IBM on consumer buying habits, and they found that purpose-driven customers are now the largest demographic in retail. This means that people care more about the companies they are buying from and the values those companies represent. Here are the 4 main customer types:
- Purpose driven (44%). These are people who buy based on the values of the company. If the company shares their values they will purchase from them.
- Value driven (37%). Traditionally this was the biggest group. These people are focused on price and convenience, so they want the cheapest, easiest option.
- Brand driven (15%). These customers stay loyal to a brand – think of someone who only uses Apple products.
- Product driven (4%). Focused on product functionality and value – this would be someone choosing a mobile phone because it has better features, maybe it’s a little bit faster, maybe it is more customisable, etc.
In today’s world, if you do not have a strong brand with clear values you are going to have a hard time winning customers unless your products are noticeably less expensive than the competition – in which case you’re basically just racing to the bottom.
If you are going to win customers on values, then you have to know which values they care about. Let’s say they care about the environment. This can mean a lot of things, it could mean they are focused on reducing carbon emissions, plastic waste, or even the animal habitat impacted earlier in the supply chain. Just as important as the planet are its people – this means treating people with respect and making sure you’re not buying from businesses with poor ethical practices.
Beyond your environmental impact and supply chain, there are a lot of values that your customers will care about; gender equality, mental health initiatives, safe access to food and clean water for people in disaster zones, etc. Most of these cannot be directly tackled by a business, so this is why aligning with charities and for-good organisations is so important.
By supporting a charity and fundraising you are showing your customers that you care about the values these organisations represent.
Q: How does supporting a charity as a business differ from donating as an individual?
Firstly, there are more rules and legal requirements for businesses giving back – collaboration terms, payout agreements, etc. At Virtue, we have automated the process so something that normally takes a business a few weeks or months can now be done in minutes.
Secondly, donating as a business can be more impactful than donating as an individual because there are great tax incentives and we have seen that supporting charities has a direct benefit on business performance. eCommerce brands supporting charities can see increased customer loyalty, increases in average order value, as well as higher conversion rates. Some charities will even promote their partners to their existing donor base – which is a great way to get in front of a new audience. For example, if there is an item at a store that directly supports a charity, some charities will promote that item on their website and social media. Charities are also getting some great exposure as the partnership can often put them in front of hundreds or thousands of potential donors.
Q: What role do you think a marketing manager within a business could play in making their business a force for good?
Take some of your marketing budget and spend it on making a positive impact!
The ROI for cause marketing is great and can be way more effective than most digital campaigns. The reason is that you get a lot more for your money. Not only is it good for your brand, but it provides you with a ton of content that you can share with your customers long-term. Plus, some charities will also promote your business which gives you access to new customers.
We’ve developed an Awareness Days Calendar which is really helpful for marketing managers throughout the year. If your business has a value that you want to support, check out the calendar and see which days exist to do something impactful.
Q: How easy is it for businesses to get started with Virtue?
It’s very simple. From installation to going live, it takes six or seven minutes. You might want to take your time and search through the 20,000 causes we have on the platform, but if you already know who you want to support it’s really quick.
You can find everything on our website, but if you’re in the Shopify app store and just search ‘charity’, Virtue will be the first app that comes up. Just add us to your store, pick the causes you want to support and start giving.
Q: What advice would you give to a lone champion of giving back within a business to get the whole business on board with the idea of year-round giving?
From Earth Day to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are a ton of different initiatives to support throughout the year. The first step is to talk to people at the business and find out what they care about. You will find that some people really care about sustainability, while others want to support refugees or help rescue animals. From there take a look at the year and see what initiatives you can get behind.
Q: Can businesses that already have an idea of the direction of their giving reach out to Virtue for advice on which charities are best to align with?
Yes, of course. A lot of stores will come to us for a recommendation. ‘We want to support an environmental charity, who do you recommend?’ Always happy to help there.
Roughly half of the stores that sign up will choose to support one of our featured causes, but the other half are supporting smaller, grassroots charities. Additionally, some businesses want to support charities that we do not have on the platform – that is great. We are always looking for new causes to bring onto the platform.
Q: Any final tips?
I highly recommend that businesses talk to their customers and find out what they care about. Most of the businesses that sign up to Virtue already have a cause in mind, but it’s important to remember that just because you like a charity doesn’t mean that your customers will connect with it in the same way.
Something simple like an Instagram story asking ‘What causes and charities are important to you?’ is an easy and underutilised customer research tool. With Virtue, you can select multiple charities to support at once. I would recommend that you try three different charities to start. With each purchase you can give your customers the choice as to where the money goes, that is a great way to see which organisations align with their values. From there, you can double down on one, or keep cycling through to see what else they care about.
Last thing. A lot of people don’t talk about their giving. It’s okay to tell people you’re supporting a charity! If you’re doing the work tell your customers about it – it’s great for your business and it helps with exposure for a lot of smaller causes.
If you have any questions about giving back or would like to learn more about Virtue. Feel free to email Westen directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Westen MacIntosh – CMO at Virtue
Check out their Shopify Charity Fundraising App