Giving Back During a Crisis

A Bellwether Insight

Photo: Jonas Jacobsson
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Scrolling through Instagram and reading the recent eNews in your promotions tab (and our own homepage), you may have noticed a lot of companies pledging money, time, supplies or all of the above to help with the COVID-19 pandemic. And, if you have seen our Sustainability Basics or Marketing Basics Courses, you know we love a give-back message. So, we are here with some tips on how to start a give-back program and how to make the most out of giving back during a crisis.

Straight up donate

While the give-back message does provide an opportunity for transactional sales (like a percentage of sales donated to a charity), sometimes you may find it better to just donate a sum of money to a charity. This is helpful when you are looking to make a measured donation (it’s easier to budget) or are looking to offset a specific amount of taxes (seems shady, but doing good has its perks for you and for the charity…you are still a business and if you stay in business, you can do more good!). In this crisis, we’ve mostly seen large multi-national companies doing this sort of give back. American Eagle gave $1 million, MAC Cosmetics $10 million, and other brands giving anywhere from $1000 to tens of millions.

If you can’t donate money, donate supplies. Some companies have transformed their workshops to make PPE (personal protective equipment), but they can’t find enough fabric to meet the demand. In that case, donate your deadstock fabric or work with your suppliers to find ways to donate what they need to produce the goods. Fashion brands are in a unique position to source needed supplies, given their relationships with manufacturers abroad.

Alexis, a Miami-based womenswear label, donated N95 masks and other medical supplies they bought from construction companies to area hospitals. Also consider donating the supplies that others may not be thinking about. Havaianas decided to donate sound equipment to a local radio station in Rio de Janeiro, so that low-income families could have access to COVID-19 coverage.

Transform your space (so it brings you and everyone else more joy)

We’ve seen quite a few companies transform their spaces to make PPE for healthcare workers. Christian Siriano in NYC was one of the first to start making masks, LVMH transformed their American factories to create PPE, Wrangler & Lee are making gowns in their North Carolina-based factories, and Burberry is using their Yorkshire factory to make masks for the U.K.

If you can, adapt some of your spaces to provide supplies for the crisis. This will help keep your workers employed, while of course helping those in need with crucial supplies. This is a good time to look into government assistance in the form of the small business PPP loans to keep your payroll budget afloat. If that isn’t enough to keep you going, tie in your efforts to customer purchases, with every purchase going towards a number of masks or other PPE. This will help keep more parts of your manufacturing workforce actually working.

Look to be creative with your factory’s skills. If you produce clothing, make PPE; if you produce jewelry, look to make equipment needed for medical supplies or partner with someone masking masks to help make the metal nose tips needed for proper fit; if you produce fragrance, look to make sanitizer, like Bvlgari did in partnership with their manufacture, ICR.

Classic percentage to charity

Percentage of sales goes to an organization. As always, do this within your budget. But! This is a special time, where MANY organizations will be trying to give back money to organizations and find ways to tie-in give back messages into their marketing messages. Because of that, you need to look around at what the points of parity are. That simply means – what is the percentage everyone else is doing? You need to at least be giving back that much, or more. The downside of a percentage to a profit approach is that it may not seem like a lot of money to your customer – especially if other brands are leaning more into bigger donations or a customer has to take a much easier action to trigger a donation.

It’s also a good idea to understand how long you should keep this going. Some businesses aren’t stopping the discount and charitable donations while others are putting a time limit on it. Given the crisis is ongoing, it’s our recommendation to continue to donate if you can. Or, pick a different approach every few weeks to keep the messaging interesting and continue to give back at the same time.

Tit for Tat

To drum up sales or social media engagement during this time, consider donating based on an action of the customer. This is similar to the percentage of sales approach, but the money or supplies donated is much more specific. We love this approach because the customer can see exactly what is given when they purchase. Parachute was donating five masks with the purchase of five masks (while supplies lasted). Parade is giving away $1 for every #ParadeTogether used on Instagram where the poster poses in underwear.

Picking a Charity or Organization for donation

First, think about your organization and your customer. Who would they donate to? What fits in best with your brand? This is a great way to start a conversation with your customer. We are always trying to build communities around our brands. This type of exchange leads to more loyal customers and increased overall lifetime spend. It’s also a place for market research and a platform to share information with your customers. So, ask them where they would donate. Clare V, a handbag line manufactured in LA, asked their customers where they should donate masks through Instagram. 

You may want to look for charities that focus on the effects of a crisis that are sometimes overlooked. Saks Fifth Avenue is working with Bring Change to Mind, a non-profit that focuses on reducing the negative effects of isolation (the organization was founded to help reduce stigma around mental health). Tapestry donated $2 million to the NYC Small Business Continuity Loan Program, so small businesses could help get loans to stay in business.

Consider donating to a few charities over the course of a crisis. La Ligne is picking a different charity every week to donate to, offering 15% off to customers and a 15% donation to the charity. They are also offering free masks with every single purchase.

If you are already working with a charity before the crisis hit, consider continuing your partnership with them to increase your contributions, or start new projects focused around the crisis. Everlane already had an existing relationship with Feeding America, so they made the decision to just keep on donating all of the profits from their 100% Human line sales to the organization. (see editor’s note below)

If you are looking for fashion specific places to donate, here are some places you can donate. We are also looking for more! Please DM us on Instagram with ideas and we will make sure to share!

For more information on how to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, head to our COVID-19 coverage page and check out our free course, PR in a Crisis.

A note from Benjamin Bellwether: On July 27th, 2020, we added a disclaimer in this article to the brand Everlane. While we do research and look for brands that follow through with their sustainability goals, we know that sometimes that doesn’t come to fruition (or never actually happened). We also know that we are only as good as the information we find, and that when that information changes or a light is shed on the wrongdoings of a brand, we need to make sure to address it. You can find more about the racism and greenwashing at Everlane in this NYT article. While we decided in other articles to remove the references to their name, we kept it in this article, as the article was about donating to charities during a crisis. We believe, in this case, that providing information about the greenwashing at Everlane will help other businesses realize that they need to follow through with their sustainability goals.