Maybe it’s the impact of the younger generation making their voices heard, exacerbated by our collective experience of the pandemic on our communities – but it seems that more and more brands are bringing CSR into the marketing mix for their loyalty and rewards programmes.

Which we think makes fantastic business sense – as well as being great as a new revenue stream for the charities up and down the UK (and around the world) who do such fantastic work in support of our communities and planet and yet who are under such financial pressure as a result of COVID.

But what’s the best way for brands to do that?

We’re in a unique position to be able to review customer responses from our various terrific clients across Loyalty and Rewards to see what works really well. Here’s our ‘Top 10’ of how to make the most of the opportunity to drive emotional engagement and growth in your programme by incorporating charitable giving and democratising your CSR by involving your customers in the agenda.

1.Consumer Choice

Number one on the list is ensuring that your customer is given choice about which charities they wish to support. This is about you getting behind what they care about – not the other way around (which is where the approach has fallen short in previous years). It’s a great and simple way to bring real and meaningful personalisation into your programme too.

Proof point: For Good Causes has seen consumers donate their loyalty points and rewards to nearly 3,000 charities so far – and the number grows every day.

2. Supporting local communities

There’s been a trend toward localisation in marketing for some time now – and this is another theme that has gained further traction as a result of the pandemic. Consumers are more acutely aware of the local communities in which they live (and work now) – and are actively seeking ways to support and give back to their local communities.

Proof point: We’re seeing 40% of all loyalty point and reward donations going to local charities – with 50% going to national charities and 10% to international ones.

3. Promotions

Whilst best practice is to have a charity element in your programme at all times, promotions still serve a valuable purpose in raising awareness and stimulating activation. Match funding is a great way for brands to promote their own partner charities or charities from particular sectors at particular times of the year.

Proof point: Perceived wisdom in the industry suggests that matched funding leads to at least a four times increase in donated value – with consumer donation typically doubling and that being matched by the brand.

4. Communications

Communications should not be restricted to times of promotion however. As with any aspect of your scheme – or indeed any marketing messaging – communication is key and optimally should include all channels.

Proof point: One of the great benefits of strong communications regarding the charity elements of your scheme is that not only does it drive awareness and engagement from those customer that positively respond to the messaging, but it also raises awareness and generates a positive brand halo to your entire customer base.

5. Flexibility – charity choice

We all know from our own personal experience that the charities which are top of mind can change over time – as we have different life experiences. So ensuring that you are responsive to this and flexible in which charities or sectors you are highlighting will ensure that your programme remains both fresh and relevant.

Proof point: At For Good Causes we saw how COVID-19 impacted consumers’ priorities. Prior to Lockdown the animals sector was attracting over 20% of donations – whilst NHS charities were receiving less than 5%. At the height of lockdown this was inverted – with NHS charities receiving over 30% of donations and animal charities down to less than 5%. Since then this has reverted closer toward the original ratios – although animal charities have still not quite recovered to pre-COVID levels.

6. Quid pro quo

Charities have considerable and loyal supporter bases – either in terms of breadth for the large ones or depth for smaller, local charities. They are very keen to receive this new source of revenue and as such have an important role to play in letting their supporters know which brands have stepped up to enable this new form of giving. Providing them with the communication tools they need to tell their supporters about your programme is a significant boost to your marketing reach.

Proof point: Featuring a well known charity for redemption leads to a fivefold increase in donations to them – so it’s well worth a charity agreeing to communicate to their supporter base about the availability of your scheme in return for getting a feature slot.

7. Flexibility – value

As loyalty marketers we know it’s always about the segmentation – and so too with regards to charity engagement in your programme. Some consumers will care passionately about a cause and are used to literally running, cycling or swimming to the ends of the earth to support it. They might value an auto-redemption facility that allows them always to support their favourite charity with the rewards they earn. But most customers will want to make periodic donations of part of their balance to show they care and to make just a little difference to their charity.

Proof point: Our consumer research shows that on average consumers are willing to donate 25% of their balance to charity – meaning the lion’s share of their points or miles is still available for in store / flights or room purchases. 

8. Easy CX

All human beings have a kind and generous nature somewhere inside, but we’re also an impatient bunch – so it’s vital that the charity element of your programme is super simple to engage with.

Proof point: Technology – leveraging tokenisation and APIs – enables us to deliver a digital, frictionless customer experience that is mobile friendly as well as COVID secure and resilient.

9. Surprise and delight

Another trend in loyalty has been a proliferation of new programmes that eschew points and focus instead on offers and benefits. Surprise and delight rewards are often part of that – and charity donations have a powerful role to play in this mix, offering a surprise and delight with a difference and with real meaning.

Proof point: This can work just as well for staff as well as customers. We’re seeing great take up for our Staff Christmas Donations Campaign this year – with companies using the budgets that would have gone on the staff Christmas parties to send tokens instead to their people, which can donate them to a charity close to their heart or home.

10. Core part of proposition

Lastly, to really make the most of the rising tide in interest and appetite for community focussed aspects to your programme – especially coming from the younger generations so vital to the future of all our brands – this needs to be embedded as a core element of the proposition, not as an afterthought or add on (which has been so often the case in the past). Consumers are highly sensitive to greenwash and its equivalent across the charity sectors – and quickly see through anything that is not authentic.

Proof point: Interesting to see so many brands doing this – not only our own clients such as BP, Vodafone, Samsung, Rakuten, Pure Planet, Sodexo and the Office for National Statistics; but also Pets at Home with their VIP card, M&S in their new Sparks programme, Virgin with their new Virgin Red scheme and brands responding to COVID with significant campaigns – such as Nectar/Sainsbury’s, NatWest, British Airways and Texaco.