Pin-up campaigns ask that a retailer’s customer donate a dollar to a charity during checkout. In exchange, the customer gets to put their name on a piece of paper and hang it within the store. I recently saw a press release that announced a pin-up campaign at a regional pawn store chain, of all things. Charity pin-up program at retailers are ubiquitous; you can hardly go into a grocery store, pharmacy, corner deli … or apparently even a pawn store without being asked if you want to participate.

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By Alyson Genovese

Nonprofits love them. They are a fairly easy way to get their brand in front of a lot of consumers and they do raise a lot of cash. A ton of cash. Joe Waters at, for instance, noted that Children’s Miracle Network raised more than $100 million in 2014 from printing 75 million pin-ups reaching 65,000 corporate partner retail locations nationwide.

And corporations love them. The funds raised by these programs are included in the charitable giving totals reported by corporations, significantly boosting their rates with little to no cash outlay. They offer a highly visible in-store reminder of their commitment to philanthropy and there’s little risk to the company or its brand.

Win-win relationship, right? Not so fast.

Here’s why:

1. They allow corporations to use OPM to pad philanthropic totals

When starting out in the field of cause marketing, one of the first terms I learned was the value of OPM – Other People’s Money. A 2013 survey conducted by Cause Marketing Forum found that point-of-sale consumer donation programs like pin-up campaigns raised $358 Million from 62 corporate programs nationwide in 2012. This total represents just a fraction of the total programs happening everyday across the country. All of it is claimed by corporations as part of their philanthropic commitments, but all of it was donated by consumers. Allowing companies to lay claim to hundreds of millions of dollars of their consumers’ funds is disingenuous and creates an inaccurate perception of a company’s investment in our local communities.

2. It makes companies look lazy

Companies across the globe are thinking more creatively than ever about their role in the communities in which they live and work. In an earlier post, I examined how companies are using their assets strategically to help solve remarkably complex social issues. Companies – particularly retailers – are constantly trying to demonstrate distinctiveness. When your company is the fourth of the day to ask for a dollar donation, that is the exact opposite of a distinctive experience. Many companies that do use pin-up campaigns have remarkable and thoughtful philanthropic strategies. But what the consumer sees is an uninspired pin-up campaign.

3. It’s annoying to customers

When I walk into my local convenience store, I wish to get the closest cold caffeinated beverage and be on my way. Instead, I am asked if I want to donate $1 to the charity du jour, delaying my enjoyment of said cold beverage. I decline the donation, and am now feeling slightly annoyed and/or guilty. I doubt this is the experience the brand had intended for me as a customer.

4. It doesn’t help lift the brand

Perhaps one of the most important reasons why companies should just stop with the pin-up campaigns is that they ultimately don’t help reach business objectives. These pin-up campaigns are strictly transactional; they offer little “stickiness.” Ultimately, consumers don’t equate donations at checkout with feeling more affinity towards the retail brand. This is particularly an issue for companies that use pin-up campaigns for a number of different charities throughout the year. There’s no way for consumers to truly understand what you stand for if you don’t have a strategic tie-in or consistent presence.

But what alternatives are there? Understanding that companies wish to share the experience of giving with their consumers, what other models are there to consider?

1. Consider a “gift with purchase” model

Kohl’s and Macy’s have both effectively created point-of-sale-fundraising programs that allow dollars to be raised via their consumers, but unlike other programs, these offer actual value for each donation. Whether a book for their grandchild or a coupon for a special purchase day, consumers have a tangible reason to feel good about their small donation, and can reflect on that donation long after they’ve left the store. A number of online retailers such as Halo Pets also offer similar gift-for-donation opportunities.

2. Examine “matching dollars” options

Although this doesn’t eliminate the ever-annoying pin-up campaign entirely, it’s safe to say that consumers would feel better about making the donation if they knew that the company was matching their donation dollar-for-dollar.

3. Allow consumers to donate “loyalty rewards” to the charity

My local gas station offers me points for filling up at their location, but I never seem to be able to take advantage of the savings. Aggregating my small points with others, the company can donate those to a local nonprofit in need of gas cards or heating oil. I get to feel better about giving something away that literally cost me nothing. Target’s 20+ year old Take Charge of Education program allows you to use your Target card in store while 5% goes back to the school of your choosing. It’s an easy reminder for me to pull out that card at the register, and I feel great when the school newsletter tells us how much was raised by our collective spending.

I mentioned this article at a recent conference on corporate philanthropy and got some interesting visceral responses. What are your thoughts on pin-up campaigns? Are they the program that people love to hate but can’t part with? Are they here to stay? Ideas for alternatives? We look forward to hearing from you.

Alyson Genovese
Guest Blogger
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