Questioning Your Affinity Efforts: “We’ve always done it that way” no longer applies!

Me: Thank you for calling Leaders Credit Union. This is Josh.

Call Center Rep: Are you the one that handles advertising?

Me [wincing]: Yes.

Call Center Rep: I’m ________ with __________ Foundation. Unfortunately, thousands of children die everyday without realizing their biggest wish…
…these children suffer from intensely painful diseases with no real hope of recovery…
…we understand the economic recession has been difficult for you as a business, but imagine how difficult it has been on the families who have had to pay endless medical bills…
… so can I count on you to commit to our _____________ sponsorship this year?

Me [weeping uncontrollably]: Well of course you can! Where do I mail the check?!?!

It wasn’t, and never has been like that for me, but for many executives in charge of public relations, this is a major pitfall. The ability to say “no” successfully in the context of charitable donating is not a virtue that many possess. I unfortunately spent the first few years of my career in inside sales (telemarketing), and got very familiar with the word “no” as it was being uttered on the other end of the line. By virtue of hard knocks, I know exactly how to stonewall a salesperson on the incoming end these days.

However, I’m not a cold-hearted tin-man that’s suggesting that you apply a “shut ‘er down” mentality to all of your affinity efforts. We don’t conduct business in a vacuum. When your credit union exists in a market like Jackson, Tennessee, if you cease to market to charitable entities, you get lost in the shuffle. We’re a very cause-oriented medical community, and those charitable events and fundraisers are absolutely essential. However, what I am saying is that as a marketer, it’s critical that you don’t put your affinity efforts on autopilot. Making Carte Blanc “yes” or “no” decisions across the board will either bleed your budget away or create the general member assumption of apathy toward your community.

There is a third option.

Developing a plan for your donations and affinity events will help you to guarantee solid returns on your efforts by judging the impact they make on profitable segments of your membership. Here’s an example: I have been called by the national affiliate for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to make charitable donations. I turn them down every time and always will. Is it because I’m not attuned to the suffering of CF patients? No, it’s because I know there are two major local events for CFF and we’ll get better visibility for our money. If I donate funds to the national call center, I lose control of the disbursement of those funds. Then I don’t know if the Leaders name is attached to anything in a local capacity, or if my local representative even knows that I’m participating in their initiatives.

So my question is this: does your affinity marketing program yield strong publicity returns in the form of growth goals you’re trying to achieve? Or, is it viewed as a garbage disposal that you funnel money into and never see it again? If you’re interested in maximizing lower marketing allocations, prepare to leave some charities behind on the threshing floor and hone your community presence into something truly effective for your brand. Remember that this, like everything else you do, is for the ultimate benefit of your member as cost-savings or additional dividends. EVERYTHING either adds to or detracts from these objectives and has to be considered.

Now get to work! You’ve got an affinity plan to work on!