RETISIO: in this interview style podcast, we ask the important questions of expert digital commerce practitioners and standout retail leaders to help you gain traction, reduce risk, and sell more online. In our conversation today, we’ll discuss how retailers and brands should approach enabling charitable giving and donations to worthy causes on their e-commerce websites and stores.
This will include what pitfalls you should avoid and best practices to follow. So we look forward to speaking with our guests today who I’ll introduce now. We are super excited to have Julie Davidson on the podcast. Welcome, Julie.
Julie has always incorporated philanthropy and charitable giving into her 20 plus year career from setting up a pro bono program in her own events management business in New Zealand, to working directly for nonprofits, seeking to develop successful partnerships with retailers at national and local levels.
Julie currently serves as the executive director of the Oregon Medical Education Foundation, where our major focus is on building a statewide mentorship program that will help Oregon get ahead of burnout and healthcare. Julie is also the executive director for the Portland Bologna Sister City Association developing programs that brings cultures closer together, and she helps lead fundraising and events for her son’s high school band program and her nephew’s local Cub Scout Pack.
Welcome, Julie. We appreciate you being here.
Julie Davidson: Hey, Julie. Hi, Tony. It’s great to be with you both. Thank you.
RETISIO: We also have, as always, Tony Moores lending his expert insights and sometimes rather strong opinions on all things digital commerce. Tony is currently the chief echnology officer at RETISIO and has a long track record of leading retailers and brands and digital commerce technology implementations that enabled them to operate online more efficiently, reduce risk, and grow their businesses.
Welcome, Tony. Thanks for being here as always.
Okay, let’s jump right into our conversation, which we mentioned will include how retailers should approach charitable giving and enable that for the consumers that shop on their sites. So let’s start with you, Tony, here. Here’s the first question for you.
How can technology be used to streamline the process of charitable giving for retailers and brands and make it more accessible to a wider audience?
Tony Moores: Hey, thanks, Brett. Great question. So traditionally technology solutions to connect people to people has really been evident in the sociopolitical backdrop. So putting the ability to use technology to create groups to put groups with like interest together. And to make sure that that messaging happens fast can also be used to move resources from the places where they are to the places where they’re most needed.
So at the end of the day there’s a wide range of technologies out there that can make charitable giving, and rescuing you know, outreach much more efficient than it is. But at the end of the day, I think it really comes down to how does one incorporate planning how does one incorporate charitable giving and outreach into, into their program?
And then looking at how technology helps ’em serve that purpose, and that’s what I’m so excited to have Julie. She’s been spending a long time in outreach and charitable giving, working with nonprofits.
Maybe Julie, if you could give us some examples of maybe some programs people have they went to technology for a quick solution or a faster
Julie Davidson: solution. Thank you, Tony. Yes, and it’s wonderful to be here with you both. Hey, this is such an important topic and I’m so honored to be a guest on your show.
You know at Tony, you’re absolutely right. It is so important that the technology underpins the relationship and makes things really easy. Makes it easy for. Donors and customers to give to the nonprofits they care most about, and it makes it easy for the donors to get and stay connected to those nonprofits.
Lots of different ways for that to happen, but really that customer experience needs to be at the heart of those conversations. In that partnership, really focusing on what is gonna eliminate barriers, reduce obstacles, and get those donors to say, yes, I want to give, whether that’s. Say the retailer is in a position of being a pass through organization and so point of sale, there’s a roundup to the nearest dollar or a fixed donation amount, or maybe there’s a special product that you know, and this is a great example of, of a reason why a, a retailer or brand would wanna partner with a nonprofit is if they’re doing a special product launched.
That’s a great excuse. To get together to help expand the reach for both. You know, other, other examples. I mean, I could go on with things like that all day. Programs like Amazon Smile, which sadly ended in February. You know, were also a great way for nonprofits to gain increased profile and awareness of what the good they were doing in their communities.
And I think at last count, around 450 million was dispersed by Amazon’s smile. As an organization that benefited a little bit from that, I can tell you that I, I agree with one of their reasons for discontinuing that program, which was the impact probably wasn’t great enough for each organization, for them to be continuing that so that, that impact the ability for those dollars to go and make a difference to the cause and go to the area of greatest need that is very important.
When nonprofits also maybe are in a position to receive a grant from a retailer or a brand, technology can really improve that relationship in a couple of ways. In my experience, the, and having been on both sides of the fence here, grant applications is a whole process unto itself where if there were the opportunity to streamline that through technology highlighting keywords, for example, to make it easier on the person receiving those.
To kind of go through everything and hit the highlights, really narrow that funnel of potential nonprofit partners without losing out on opportunities. That’s a really critical role that technology could play in that process. And then at the other end of that relationship, as we’re looking at creating that milestone or that end of program reporting, being able to track that impact and have it make it easy for the nonprofit to show the retailer or the brand that they’ve partnered with.
How they’ve made a difference, how much impact has been achieved through that partnership, and they’re really in, in there. It may be out there and I just haven’t seen it, but I don’t seem to have come across any standard for creating that milestone or that end of program report. So what it tells me is that, Retailers and brands and corporate foundations are receiving, are giving out this grant money.
They’re receiving these reports back and they’re coming in from not just one non-profit, but from a number, which makes it really hard for them to digest the information, pull out the key messages and the impact, and then report on to their their senior leadership about the impact of it. If you’re receiving information in 20 different forms, it’s a lot of work for that person to be able to put that into.
A, a format where the, the retailers can compare apples to apples and they can make decisions about continuing or updating, tweaking partnerships. You know, from that standpoint. I’ll pause there. I got more I could go on to, but I’ll stop there.
Tony Moores: for a second. No, that that, that’s great because the, the kinds of things you’re talking about really, I mean, if, if we, if we look at technology as a whole, right?
The, the issues you, you talked about, You know, you’re talking about things like a audit processes, you know, tracking. You’re talking about things like supply chain but from a e-commerce perspective, a lot of what you’re saying really resonates with the flavor of e-commerce generally known as marketplace, right?
So some of the big pillars of e-commerce have always been, how do you trade currency for product? And, and of course, if you’re talking about either donating money or donating physical goods or even services, right? Certainly it’s not hard to see, the e-commerce equivalence there, but I think to your, to your point, especially when you start talking about what is the impact, right? Who’s, who’s doing a better job of distributing the goods or services or currency to where it’s needed, who’s doing a a better job auditing so that folks can actually.
Take responsibility or even decide whether this is the right program for them. I think, you know, for, those of you who are in the marketplace space, generally have. Various sellers or providers or whatever you wanna call them, and they could be both buyers and sellers, just like charitable organizations may have some and need some, right, and engage in trade between them.
But also, I mean, what they’re really competing on. Is their ability to provide the content the service and the, the analytics that would ultimately drive the program. So I think there’s a lot of interesting synergies especially in the marketplace commerce space to address the wider program issue.
Julie Davidson: Absolutely agree on that. And I think as part of that e-commerce, more and more sites are becoming more accessible to folks with different abilities. So having colors and patterns, having captions on your images, having, you know, your site be navigable by keyboard and not just a mouse. It really does open up new audiences.
And also when a retailer or brand thinks about a partnership, some of the most successful partnerships that I’ve seen, we’ll talk about those in a little bit, are ones where you have complimentary audiences. So really taking the time to think through what your brand values are and find a non-profit partner to match that, you know, in size, in scale.
It’s however you’d like to do it, but finding a nonprofit partner. That can also bring a lot to the table. They’re not just receiving your goodwill, they are partnering with you on this. And which is one of those key key determinants of a successful partnership for both parties is that the nonprofits do have quite a lot to bring to the table, but where nonprofits really sort of generally lack the expertise is not and to no fault of their own is, is around bandwidth.
And so technology can absolutely be used to, I improve efficiencies with staff the retailers and brands. If they’re a larger organization, working with a non-profit that maybe doesn’t have as much technology to find those am to receive, you know, to track those analytics, to, to measure really there, that’s a big that’s a big advantage for the nonprofit partner if the retailer and brand is willing to track all of that and share that information.
So I think the information sharing is also just really critical there. And the nonprofit’s job at the end of the day is to fulfill the mission and they, they often don’t have the resources that a retailer or brand would have to invest in technology. And I think that does tend to hold some of them back.
Tony Moores: That’s a great insight. I mean, there’s so many marketing dollars going to smart marketing segment, determination who needs what when and, and you know, that that same information can be used to connect audiences outside of the, you know, very Adam Smithey, you know We are capitalists here, here us Roar.
Right. You know, we can talk about segments of need based on geography and availability just as we do in marketing to drive the sales product.
Julie Davidson: Absolutely. And remember the two that different generations shop differently and the current generation that’s up.
Well, lots of current generations. The up and coming generation, the, the Y in the millennial generations, they are facing, you know, huge student debt, record inflation, so they have less money to spend, so they’re much more careful with how they spend it. And a retailer who ignores that demographic, who doesn’t take the time to understand how those generations are different from Gen X.
Different from boomers, how they make their decisions, where they spend their dollars, what sort of messages on a marketing from a marketing standpoint and across which platforms they’re really not doing themselves and their nonprofit partners a disservice by not paying attention to those nuances.
Tony Moores: Yeah. You know, a actually, I think and hey, Brett, sorry if I’m, if I’m steamrolling your thunder here, but Yeah, I know, I know one of the points you wanted to get to was. You know, the implications of retailer reputations and such. And, and I think, you know, Billy just put the, the ball on the tee for us right there.
I mean, I, look, I remember my daughter coming to me about Tom’s shoes. I don’t know if they still do it or not, or they’re, they’re not a brand I, I identify with, but you know, she was telling me why everybody should buy Tom’s shoes because, they were releasing this new shoe and if you bought one.
You know, they donated one. Clearly folks like Bombas are, they’re making that part of their brand. But I, but I think what Julie just touched upon is the disposable income or the shrinking disposable income, you know, especially by the folks have gone, you know, acquired this huge education debt and then, you know, facing a job market that they’re, they’re facing.
And look, it’s, it’s rough out there, right? Every, everybody’s got a, a little business. They wanna hire 20 somethings and pay them 20 something salaries, right? So. So maybe it is increasingly important especially for retailers who, who don’t differentiate maybe in their product offering or in their price point to say, look, you know, you’re gonna buy dish towels no matter what.
Buy our dish towels because you’re helping to save the world. Or, or, or whatever that, that happens to be.
Julie Davidson: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And, and retailers honestly can’t afford to not do that, frankly. They but it, it has to be more than just a, a nice tagline. There has to actually be substance behind that.
You have to be able to demonstrate the impact that buying this dish towel does save the world, like you said, or whatever the example may be, because the world is small technology. Has brought people closer together, it’s made it easier for consumers to research companies that they’re considering buying a product form.
The messages that they’re seeing reviews online. When something goes viral, good or bad, everybody knows about it. And that can, that can really tank a retailer’s reputation. Faster than anything that I’ve seen in my generation. I’ll just say I’m Gen X. Okay. But it really is it really is important for retailers and nonprofits too, to vet the relationship very carefully because it can go both ways and it can definitely harm one or both partners if it’s not done well.
Tony Moores: That’s, it’s funny, I, I also took the Pepsi challenge some, some time ago. Disregard that. If you have no idea what I’m talking about you’re on the
RETISIO: same team. I’m on the same team, I believe. So we talked about the reputations, which can be improved or, or hopefully not negatively impacted.
And we talked about bottom line potentially and how that can but then the reputation is probably worth more, I would think, to the corporation than the maybe the bottom line improvements.
Tony Moores: Well, that, that’s interesting, right? Because. Look from a, how well are you doing from a program perspective? I think I’m gonna ask, Julie to pitch in there, but before I do, you know, one of the things. That should be important to an organization is minimizing the negative operational impact.
You know, the picking up a new program can be disruptive, right? So when you talk about measuring the impact of you know, charitable, charitable programs, I would encourage retailers. To sort of tailor that to the things they’re, they’re already measuring. So for example I’m gonna pick on Babas again.
Right. You know I, I know cause I’ve heard the radio and they say it on their, their website that they, I. You know, donate a pair of socks for every sock they purchase. Retailers are probably already measuring engagement, right? How are they interacting with media on their site? You know, hang times, search terms, things are like, things like that.
Can they make that program a little bit more . Maybe I want to know how many of those socks made it to my community, or, or maybe I wanna recommend a community where they go to, I don’t know that that’s part of their program program, but if they expanded their program that way.
They could measure how people are engaged with that program by the questions they ask of it and, and the directives that they send to it. In the same way, retailers are, are constantly measuring all aspects of the user experience, the impact to that on the sales channel, it all comes down to funnel analysis.
So my recommendation again, and, and you know, the, the Bombas thing was just an example of, of measuring engagement. Look at the funnels you already have in place. Look at the, the analytics programs you already have in your place, and then ask yourself the question, how do my charitable giving programs fit within that space?
Julie Davidson: Those are great points, Tony. Absolutely. And I think that retailers are already doing so much, right, when it comes to collecting and analyzing the data and understanding their customers. Couple of things I wanted to just tack onto that are one that, that nonprofit partners can add value to that equation by the expertise they bring in engaging their constituents, right?
So retailers would understand what their customers are doing. Nonprofits can help continue that momentum and build that by connecting those customers to conversations about the causes that they’ve demonstrated they care about.
Another challenge though that retailers and brands should maybe be mindful of is one of transparency, especially for retailers that have their own foundation. Sometimes, you know, if there really aren’t clear lines drawn between the retailer and the their retailers foundation, the brands foundation, it can not erode trust.
That’s probably too strong. But as we talked about, earlier, this generation of shoppers really wants to see transparency in their transactions. They wanna be able to know that the dollars they spend actually are going to have the impact that was promised. And so, Retailers have the staffing and the technology to develop that.
So sharing that information in a transparent and clear way with their nonprofit partners openly than that will really go a long way towards gaining the trust of those customers and, and with a strong nonprofit partnership with a complimentary audience. The nonprofit is actually bringing that retailer, new customers.
And so it’s an opportunity for the retailer to grow their customer base and grow their sales. And then the onus is on them, of course, to continue that because those customers are used to working with that nonprofit and have built trust in there. So they, you know, that’s a natural fit there. I think the retailers there are other ways too that a partnership can be successful.
It’s not just about the sales and then you’re done. To really help uplift nonprofits in general, and especially the ones that they care most about, they can help, like I said, open up some of that technology and sharing that information so that nonprofits don’t have to do it themselves. They can just focus on the impact on the mission and know that that information, that data and analytics will kind of come to them in some ways and then they can discuss it as a partnership.
Often retailers maybe would have some dedicated staffing that could help the nonprofit with that reporting. Retailers can also add a lot of value to the marketing and social media conversations to support that non-profit partnership. And then lastly, retailers can, maybe offer some budget reducing in-kind support. Whether that’s help with printing or travel to the sites, things like that, you know, the retailers can bring some of that additional support to the relationship too.
I think at the end of the day, a good partnership is one that where the communication goes both ways, right? There isn’t a huge power differential. There is a genuine, invested interest in both parties, seeing this be successful in helping each other out, and communication’s a major part of that.
Tony Moores: So there are two points you just made that I, I’d love to jump in on.
One is the, the donation of services by the retailers, right? I mean, you’ve already, you’re already paying for a payment gateway. A lot of charitable organizations don’t have the ability to take digital funds because I. That’s, I mean, forget the expense, right? It’s, it’s the onus of PCI compliance, for example, which a retailer has no choice but to deal with, you know you could make that easy for a local charity or out outreach program, and, and there are, There are a bunch of things like that, right?
I mean, there are spots on your site where you advertise, right? There are already marketing personalization, segment driven programs that I’m sure either your, your partner or your local outreach groups would, would love to tap into. But like Julie, if I. If I want, if I was a retailer a lot of retailers are, are talking to us, E-commerce platform providers and, and then of course other technology and and service providers about kind of getting into the Twitter, TikTok vine, insert your next whatever here.
But obviously there’s a big splash and a big industry around, you know, the creator and influencer market. Right. And how, how might a program, a partnership between a retailer and maybe a, a nonprofit. Work in, in that respect? I mean, can you, can you see a, a program where, you know, maybe a nonprofit is almost an influencer for a brand, but using the channel that that brand already has for its influencer to help get the message out and to maybe socialize the impacts of you know, the programs that they’re, that they already have in place.
Julie Davidson: That’s a great question. I think you’ve touched on something really important there. There is no shortage of celebrity endorsements of nonprofits, foundations that they set up themselves or causes that they care about. I mean, you don’t have to look much further than, you know, the hurricanes that we’ve had.
You know, hurricane Katrina is a great example of that and how how many people went out on social media and raised awareness and raised funds and brought their audiences, and made people around the world feel close to this disaster and wanting to help. There’s so many great examples of that I think. At the end of the day, I think you’ve gotta be mindful of how you reach your audiences and make sure that, again, you’re, you’re reaching as many people as you can.
The platforms that you mentioned are great tools and a lot of people are on them, but not everybody. And you also have to do it multiple times. Having a multi-channel approach that is going to with tailored messages for each of your audience is absolutely critical and bringing it to life. With videos, with with images, with stories of actual people and infographics with, you know, easy to understand impact.
Those tools are huge. So it’s not just about one person on one platform. It really becomes about the total messaging strategy. And I think every, you know, there are lots of, there’s lots of room there for all generations and all levels of expertise to have a role in that.
There’s another thought on that.
Tony Moores: So obviously, you know, we’re here talking about technology and, and e-commerce and, you know, we jump from topic to topic on this podcast, but I think I’m going to be challenging our future guests to kind of talk about whatever we’re talking about from this perspective as well.
You know, I just came back from, from Shop Talk. I mean, there are literally hundreds of MarTech. You know, how do you, how do you make the content better? How do you pick the right audience? How do you put the right content in front of the right people at the right time?
You know that there’s just so much of that. I think I’m gonna be challenging those folks and asking them, how do they use their superpowers for good? Because I think there’s a huge opportunity there. All of the things you’re talking about that are important for an outreach program or a charitable giving program.
You talked about multi-channel, you talked about segmented content for audiences. You know, you talked about being where the customer is in the right channel. These are quote unquote solve problems or should be. Solve problems in this space. Right. So I, I think it’d be a very good thing for us to kinda ask ask that question, you know, how do we make the, the lessons learned and the technology that’s already evolved to service that sort of digital commerce market and put it to work in the outreach market.
Julie Davidson: Okay. No, that’s a great point. I’m so glad that you’re going to be asking those questions. I think those questions are, they need to be asked and answered, and I think retailers, because of their size and by nature, they have a strong marketing team that’s an asset that their nonprofit partners would love to get some help with.
In most cases, there are so many nonprofits who are so busy doing the programming and working on, on, on the fundraising and the mission. They don’t simply have time to create content and. Get it out there and have a, a robust marketing strategy that will do all these things. I know, cause I’m doing that right now.
On top of everything else that we’ve got, you know, programs, we’re a staff of one. It’s program, it’s marketing, it’s mission, it’s fundraising, it’s new strategies, it’s donor stewardship. Like there’s a million different things that we’re trying to do and most nonprofits simply don’t have the bandwidth to do that.
So that is a major thing that a retailer could bring to that partnership to make it successful. Other things to consider too. And I You know, I really wanna make sure that we stayed to your, your time here, but other things that make a partnership like that successful are having, I guess from the outset, a strong values alignment, you know, just to the values of the retailer of the brand match the values of the nonprofit, set aside, audience, set aside, all of that for the moment.
But just, are you both trying? Are you, are you a line, are you not trying to necessarily do the same thing, but do you care about the same things? And do you care that about finding a partner that also cares about the things? That you’re trying to do. So that, that is just the, the first thing that I would look for in a partnership with a, with a retailer and having a real clear purpose.
What is this project for? Can we all agree like, this is what we’re trying to do and this is roughly how we’re gonna do it? Or do you have lots of ideas? Is it death by committee? You have too many fingers in the, in the pie, trying to figure out how we’re gonna do this and really getting bogged down into detail.
That that planning and communication, especially that sponsorship at the senior level, that support at the head at the top of both of those organizations is really key to making making progress. And then we talked about that clear marketing strategy is just so key. And investing the time up front to think through all of that.
Not just saying, Hey, we’ve got this sock and we wanna, if you buy a sock, then we’ll give a sock. Like that’s it, you that maybe that’s the one I love, Bombas and I have some. But that is just the end goal, right? There’s all of the planning to make something like that look simple, right? And investing time is, is just such a good idea.
Tony Moores: Yeah, look, we didn’t hit a lot of you know, low level technical solutions in this particular program, and, and I think that’s appropriate. Look, I think what we did discuss about, you know, the ability to repurpose what the two segments can learn from each other. I, I know there are brands out there that are looking to do something and don’t know what, and maybe it’s time for them to realize that they’ll.
Never know what, because it’s not, it’s not in their day-to-day how they think about things. Maybe the best way is to go out and seek a partnership with a, with a like-minded committee who is thinking about that and, and, and see what the synergies they can, they can bring to each other might be.
Julie Davidson: I love that idea, and I think that there’s so much to be gained from both sides by starting those conversations. I will say from the nonprofit perspective that it is hard to find the time to do that for most nonprofits. So I’ve worked with several large non-profits too. The Leukemia Lymphoma Society is one that has a special place in my heart, and they have an amazing team that’s dedicated to not only finding and starting these partnerships, but maintaining them and, and tracking and measuring.
They’re a large national nonprofit that does a lot of good but it also, they’re a large national nonprofit and they have the staff to be able to do that. When you have a smaller local nonprofit, like most of them are, it can be really hard to get on the radar of a retailer or a brand, even at the local level.
Great places that we’ve started are things like with local restaurants and car dealerships, things like that, where you have that kind of the, the values alignment. Maybe you have someone from their organization who has reached out to the nonprofit. Maybe a grateful patient program has started, something like that.
But it can otherwise be really difficult to get on their radar. Often retailers will require, really any corporate sponsor will require that one of their staff members and usually at the executive level team serves on the board of the nonprofit. Well, that assumes the nonprofit has an organized board.
Many don’t. There are some significant barriers to even starting the conversation that retailers, I think have they, they want to do good. They want to. Do well sales wise. They wanna grow their brand and gain trust in their constituents and their customers, and I think it’s really important that they continue to be scanning their environments, local, state, and national level, and identifying potential partnerships there.
Like at the start of the conversation we talked about even just as something as simple as streamlining the grant application process. That’s a great first step for retailers to be able to identify some opportunities. That could grow both sides of the equation.
Tony Moores: You know, that’s funny that, they say good, good standup comics their last joke ties into their first joke.
So congratulations on bringing that to the podcast, but it occurs to me that you and I were in the same office building in San Francisco when, when some of our contemporaries at the time were actually using an e-commerce platform to do exactly that. They were, they were building a more efficient bid process portal for the local electric company.
I don’t know if you remember that. But that was, that was going on over four years ago when you and I first met.
Julie Davidson: We’re still the exact same people we were way back then, Tony.
Tony Moores: Yes. I, I still have the exact same amount of hair. It’s just a different color. Me too.
RETISIO: Thank you guys both very much. I think we’ll all agree that there’s definitely synergies and.
A lot of benefits for both that aren’t being currently taken advantage of, and a lot of space and room for both parties, the retailers, and the nonprofits to grow themselves and their causes and their missions. Thanks again for both of you for being here, especially you, Julie. And thank you the listeners for your support of the Unlock Digtal Commerce podcast.
Be on the lookout for a new episode soon. In the meantime, be sure to check out retisio.com for more resources and solutions to help you unlock digital commerce for your business. Talk soon.
Julie Davidson: Thank you, Tony. Thank you, Brett. It was wonderful to be with you today.