Saks charity_water displayAs I cut through the Saks Fifth Avenue store on my way out of the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver last week, I noticed a standing sign right inside the door with black plastic bracelets, the new visible charity support product everybody is offering.  On the counter was a stand with a sign that said:

“A single bracelet can provide someone in need safe water for five years. $5. Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of all sickness on the planet and kill 2.2 million people every year. charity:water is a nonprofit organization that builds fresh water wells in developing nations. 100% of all proceeds directly funds water project costs. To purchase bracelets, ask any Associate or for more information, visit”

So that caught my attention…but the display stand in the cosmetic department was empty.  I struck up a conversation with a sales associate, told her about my blog and focus on business philanthropy, and she went in search of more bracelets to stock the display so I could buy one.  She was also clearly very proud of Sak’s philanthropic activities and also mentioned me to me several other causes the chain actively supports including St. Jude’s Hospital.  Clearly Sak’s approach to giving back is adding value to the employees’ morale and offers a way to further strengthen their reputation as  “good company” in the eyes of their customers while offering a way for them to get involved.

When I went to the Charity:water site, they had a link on their home page about their Saks partnership.  It states:

We are proud to announce a new exciting partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue this Mother’s Day.
The campaign launched while our team was in Ethiopia, and already has raised more than $120,000 to fund freshwater wells in Sub-Saharan Africa, India and Central America.More than 100 Saks Fifth Avenue stores worldwide are carrying $5 charity: water awareness bands, and $20 charity: water Mother’s Day e-cards are available on Customers and clients have also been sponsoring $5,000 wells. 100% of all proceeds directly fund clean water project costs.
As a small organization, we’ve been humbled as thousands of Saks employees nationwide have championed our cause, and come up with creative ways to raise awareness and then funds for wells. Some have featured water installations in their store windows, other employees have “sold” clean glasses of water to customers. Others have rallied to collect and sell their personal used jewelry to raise money. The $120,000 raised in only 2 weeks can give 6,000 people clean water for 20 years.”

I liked that the nonprofit featured Saks so prominently and also gave real dollar figures for the support provided to them. When negotiating any partnership with a nonprofit you need to be sure to clearly discuss how the nonprofit will let their supporters and the general public know about your efforts. Don’t be shy about helping give them some specific ideas – I talk to too many businesses that are not clear in discussing their expectations up front and then are disappointed that the nonprofit staff did not “come up with” fabulous ways to spread the word on their own…and some folks are irritated about that. So get clear, negotiate specifics and be willing provide technical assistance (like have your marketing or PR folks involved in writing copy for a website or press release) to make it happen in a quality way, when necessary.

Another food for thought item from this example – what size nonprofit organization do you want to work with? In this case, charity:water is a small organization and Saks’ support can make a HUGE impact on their ability to provide services to those in need. If you provide your support to a worthy but very large organization, your visibility and impact will of course be far less. Something to consider…