Adopt a cause

Strategy picked a few lesser-known causes and asked experts to build a CSR program for a brand they thought could partner up with an organization.

Water.org got a boost from Matt Damon, mental health has an ally in Bell and a slew of brands have picked up the cancer-fighting torch. But these aren’t the only causes worthy of brands’ time and spend. Lesser-known organizations in Canada offer unique opportunities for brands to hook up and support their cause (such as saving our neglected wildlife friends like the marmot, pictured). Strategy picked a few of them, and asked experts to build a CSR program for a brand they thought would make a good partner. Here’s some worthy causes to adopt, and some tips on how to develop your newfound CSR relationship.

Cause: helping people with intellectual disabilities

With a lot of focus on mental health, it might be a good time for brands to tackle the issue of developmental or intellectual disabilities. Organizations like Ottawa’s LiveWorkPlay, Community Living Toronto and Vancouver’s Inclusion BC, help people with developmental disabilities live as independently as possible. These organizations offer support for families and individuals; help with job placement, training and education; and act as advocacy groups with the government and public.

Nellie Kim, CD, John St.

Much like “Heather’s Picks” and “Staff Picks,” Indigo could offer consumers a selection of books specially selected for the organization and promote them in-store and online. The books could provide information, be related to the cause or include stories of people who overcame challenges due to developmental or intellectual disabilities. A portion of each of these purchases could be donated to the local organization and consumers could receive additional bonus rewards for their selections. Consumers could also drop off used books, or purchase new books for the organization in exchange for extra Plum points.

A collection of short stories from individuals who have been helped through the CSR program could be provided upon purchase – perhaps a digital download or free booklet – shedding light on the topic as well as providing first-hand accounts from individuals and the organization.

Alison Leung, marketing director, foods, Unilever

Helping people with developmental disabilities contribute to communities is about making connections and creating a spark that fuels productivity, so I suggest a utility company, such as Toronto or BC Hydro, to partner with this cause.

The program could include a PR push for the partnership and a mention of the cause on monthly utility statements or the company’s website. Consumers could be invited to “overpay” their bills, with the proceeds directed to the organization.
To imbed the belief that those with intellectual disabilities can and should hold jobs, the utility company could employ people with intellectual disabilities (suggested role: help manage the CSR program). That would really be the company putting their money where their mouth is.

Cause: Affordable, long-term housing

In the post-recessionary budget recovery period, cities like Toronto are cutting programs for long-term affordable housing, giving brands an opportunity to jump into the fray and offset high costs of living for low-income families. Organizations like Ottawa’s Harmony House or Calgary’s Horizon Housing strive to put people into affordable houses to decrease their dependency on emergency shelters and welfare. They also run other programs that include providing access to job training and parenting support.

Cory Eisentraut, group CD, Cundari

This cause could provide an opportunity for a home improvement retailer, such as Lowe’s, and a bank, such as community-focused CIBC, to collectively make a difference. Lowe’s could host efficiency seminars and distribute energy-efficient light bulbs, faucets and showerheads. In store, it could take a cue from grocery store food bank donation drives, inviting shoppers to buy an energy-efficient kit to be donated to those families.

CIBC could host personal education sessions on monthly budgeting, savings and even resume and job-search training.

Finally, both companies could help bolster community pride by taking on various (branded) community construction and beautification projects.

Alison Leung

Assisting low-income families would elevate the “heart” of a real estate agency, such as Royal LePage or Re/Max, and align with what they do best – finding homes for people.

Agents could “opt in” to donate a portion of commissions to the chosen cause, then share this on their websites, “for sale” signs or real estate newspaper ads. It could be tiered, so the more you donate, the more prestigious your contributor level – “Cathy Smith, Real Estate Agent and proud Platinum-level contributor to Harmony House,” for example.

There could also be fundraising dinners and events. Agents could invite clients to attend, so they could see the social responsibility in action. Who wouldn’t appreciate an agent with a good heart that gives back to the community?

Cause: Canadian conservation efforts

You don’t have to travel halfway across the world to find conservation efforts. The Toronto and Calgary Zoos both have animal re-introduction and rehabilitation programs, including (but not limited to) northern leopard frogs and whooping cranes. Brands looking to take a local spin on conservation efforts could do well to partner with the Zoos’ programs.

Nellie Kim

Canadian Tire, with its heavy focus on outdoor activities and lifestyle, could implement a special run of Canadian Tire money featuring animals that are part of the Zoo’s re-introduction and rehabilitation program. Each bill could be specific to a particular wildlife species in its natural Canadian environment, and offer a short animal descriptor and information on the conservation program. For a limited time, consumers could receive these specially-printed bills, while special boxes at the point of sale could allow them to donate their Canadian Tire funds to the cause.

Buying relevant merchandise, such as camping equipment and environmentally-conscious products, could be rewarded with bonus money.

Throughout the year, Canadiantire.ca could house info on the program, how to donate, and when to expect the next run of wildlife money.

Cory Eisentraut

Having watched the BP oil spill in the Gulf three years ago, it’s not hard to see why Big Oil has a shaky reputation when it comes to the threat toward nature and its animal inhabitants.

To help turn the tide, ExxonMobil’s Esso stations could make conservation the main focus of its charitable efforts. In addition to making corporate donations to animal re-introduction and rehabilitation programs, it could donate a percentage of the sales of its highest octane and ethanol-blended gasoline to conservation efforts, while commiting to use only non-toxic soaps and rust-inhibitors in its Touchless car washes, as well as exclusively sell propylene glycol antifreeze, a much less toxic option than the standard (and cheaper) ethylene variety.

In-store messaging could reaffirm its commitment to the cause, while signage could direct consumers online to learn how they can donate.

This plan would go a long way to making its tiger mascot less ironic.