27 Dec How to Promote Local Store Partnerships to Get the Most for Your Nonprofit
In “retail politics,” candidates for public office win the hearts and minds of voters by pounding the pavement, neighborhood by neighborhood, building relationships and creating trust along the way.
At Good360, we practice our own version of retail politics every week by going out into our neighborhoods and visiting stores participating in our Retail Donation Partnership (RDP) Program. While we’re not trying to get votes or pushing a particular agenda, we have the same goals: building relationships and creating trust.
For more than two decades, Good360 has been managing donation programs at thousands of local stores across the country. Time and again, we’ve found that the most successful and longstanding partnerships are the result of nurturing personal relationships.
That’s the key takeaway for nonprofit organizations that are interested in our local store partnerships or already participating in the program.
The RDP program matches nonprofit agencies with retail stores in their area. These are usually locations of national chains such as Walmart Bed Bath & Beyond. Once matched, the nonprofits visit the stores on a regular schedule and pick up items that have been prepped for donation. (For more information on how the program works, read our blog post.)
Here are some tips for making the most of these partnerships:
It’s all about the people
The most critical element of RDP partnerships is building a relationship with the people who are getting your items ready for donation and out the door (or, more likely, out of the loading dock).
Take the time to develop a personal rapport with the store associates who are directly responsible for preparing your pallets or boxes of donations, says Mark Stump, director of direct services at United Way of the Plains, based in Wichita, Kansas.
Go beyond the store manager and connect with the people in receiving, the employees who are directly determining what goes into your RDP shipment each week.
“Identify them as a person, not just a store employee who’s being asked to do something,” Stump says. “Get to know their lives. Ask about their kids or grandkids. It’s like seeing an old friend each week. Good things happen when you develop good relationships with people.”
Consistency and communication are critical
A key part of developing that strong relationship and trust is establishing a routine and sticking with it.
Every week, Stump visits 11 stores, including Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond. He arranges his schedule so that he’s dropping in on the same store on the same day of the week, week in and week out. Usually he’s meeting with the same receiver who helps him load up the donations.
He also leans into over-communicating with his stores, calling his contacts to remind them when he’ll be coming by, even though they already know to expect him.
“They like the consistency,” Stump says. “They know that I’m going to be there Thursday morning. I still give them a quick heads up so they know that I’m coming. It helps me because they’re literally ready at the back door to check out my items.”
When he does pickups, Stump always wears his United Way shirt and shows up with his United Way truck. In every way, he wants to come across as reliable and professional.
Keep the process as simple and easy as possible
Store employees are often overwhelmed with everything they need to do to keep the store running smoothly. As an RDP nonprofit partner, you want to make it easy for them to process your donations.
Every time Operation Food Search works with a new store location, the team meets with managers and associates to learn the exact protocol that should be followed. This process can vary somewhat with each store, but the goal is always to move with the most efficiency.
“They want you in and out as fast as possible,” says Jack Baran, communications and business development coordinator at the St. Louis-based nonprofit. “From a logistical and supply chain perspective, it’s about minimizing the amount of effort and time. So we are always conscious of their time, and we’re in and out very quickly.”
Baran has another key tip for RDP nonprofit partners: Always have your drivers carry the “golden ticket.” What he means is the letter that Good360 provides that spells out the RDP program and how it works. So, if you ever run into a store employee that’s unfamiliar with the program, you have something to show them to help them understand why you’re there.
Make employees feel like they’re making a difference
Every employee wants to be empowered and feel like their work is meaningful. You can accomplish this by talking about your organization’s mission and the impact that you’re making in your community — which, of course, is also their community.
In other words, make the stores feel invested in your mission. “I want them to know that we’re working as a team, and they’re a valuable part of the work that we’re doing,” Stump says. “I want to give them a sense that they’re really doing something of purpose, rather than just shoveling products off to someone. Also, I think we’re getting better product because the employees are trusting that we’re getting it into the hands of people who need it.”
You can do other things to bring store associates into the fold, including inviting them out to see your operation or letting them know about volunteer opportunities. Be sure to prominently recognize stores and their employees for making your donations possible.
In the end, the RDP program is a just microcosm of what Good360 achieves on a larger scale every year. We work hard to create meaningful relationships with our corporate donors and our nonprofit partners. By cultivating these relationships year in and year out, we increase the overall impact that we’re making for families and communities all across the country and the globe. Your participation in the the program not only contributes to that global effort, but also makes a direct impact on the local level in your own communities.
Interested in taking part in our Retail Donation Partnership program? Click here for more details.