Shop ‘Til It Helps
Can a dozen dogs find shelter in a leather briefcase? They can if the briefcase was purchased through Benevolink.
No, the Atlanta-based company isn’t in the business of selling amazing expandable briefcases. Rather, it allows consumers to direct corporate dollars to the causes of their choice just by shopping online at more than 200 retailers such as Gap, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Harry and David, and Staples.
Launched in fall 2003, the Benevolink Web site essentially is an online mall that consumers and organizations enroll in for free. Shoppers log on, then select the store they’d like to shop at from a drop-down bar, whereupon they’re launched into that store’s Web site to make their purchases.
Retailers pay Benevolink a fee to be part of the program and then, based on the purchase amount, the retailer donates a percentage in unrestricted dollars to one or more organizations the customer chooses. Members can change their preferred organizations quarterly.
The amount of giving varies from retailer to retailer, but nonprofits earn, on average, 5 percent to 7 percent of the total purchase, according to Karen Clay, vice president of nonprofit relations for Benevolink, which doesn’t profit from direct giving by consumers.
“What I think is so neat about it is your traditional consumer, in the course of their daily shopping, can become a philanthropist using corporate dollars,” says Jocelyn Harmon, director of development and communications for the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, which recommends Benevolink as an online fundraising tool.
Nonprofit organizations don’t have to enroll in order to be eligible to be selected to receive donations, but enrollment in Benevolink entitles them to an online toolbox that includes more than 30 designed and customizable templates for fliers, direct mail and other materials promoting Benevolink as a giving option. Each quarter, enrolled nonprofits receive the funds allocated to them by consumers and a corresponding donation summary report that lists each donor, how much he’s given and his opt-in information, which nonprofits can add to their own databases.
More than just online
The second phase of the Benevolink shopping service — a brick-and-mortar component — was launched Oct. 1, 2005, when Richmond, Va.-based supermarket chain Ukrop’s partnered with Benevolink for its Golden Gift community-giving program. The program enables shoppers who purchase Ukrop’s-brand products to earn funds that they can direct to some 2,000 participating Virginia nonprofits quarterly.
The Richmond SPCA, based in Richmond, Va., historically has been a recipient of large contributions through the Golden Gift program, and the program’s alliance with Benevolink makes it even easier for shoppers to give. Whereas donors used to have to hand-deliver or mail in to Ukrop’s a card indicating where they wanted to allocate their funds, now they can do all of the distribution online.
Robin Starr, chief executive for the Richmond SPCA, says Benevolink creates active donors, requiring them to access their account on a quarterly basis and direct their contributions.
“We intentionally require the consumer to come to the Web site and tell us who they want to give to four times a year, versus them picking an organization one time and not having to think about it anymore. Part of what we’re about is engaging people in the giving process,” Benevolink’s Clay adds.
Currently in discussions with other stores, Benevolink hopes to become a national provider of loyalty marketing and fundraising both online and in stores.
“Ultimately, Benevolink will be where all of your everyday, regular shopping allows you to generate charitable giving,” Clay says.
For more information, visit www.benevolink.com.