Meaty vs. Measly charity

SpareFoot's offer of up to $100 toward a month of storage within 75 miles of Boulder, CO to help flood victims demonstrates a substantive show of support. It stands in stark contrast to paltry giveaways that show a company's desire for positive press-and not much else.

With social media and networks keeping a watchful eye on commercial dealings and doings nationwide, this is a good time for self-storage operators to re-evaluate charitable giving policies.

First, conduct a "self smell test." Essentially, look at your motivation for charitable giving. If PR interests trump altruism, rethink the activity. Otherwise, you risk being viewed as self-serving instead of supportive of your community, creating a negative PR boomerang effect.

Here's an example of what not to do: Let's say your average monthly rental is $100 and you have 100 units. You offer to donate 2% of the fees collected for the first month from customers signing up over a 90-day period. Even if you had 100% turnover in that time, that would be $200-not exactly a mind-blowing donation. Promoting this offer through your marketing and PR channels could make you look silly and small-minded, opposite of the intended impact.

Here are some ways to assess the legitimacy of charitable donation decisions:

1. Look at scale and scope. Contributions of 2% of new unit signups over three months in a 100-unit complex isn't likely to add up to much money. So, either scale up the percentage or number of units involved.

One possibility is to donate a big chunk, say 50%, which is noteworthy. Another is to enlist partners across your state, region or even nationwide-so that the 2% donation applies to thousands or even tens of thousands of units. Again, this can be substantial-which is one reason why a large national self-storage chain can make a big splash with minimum impact per facility.

Do the math. Your common sense will tell you if the amount of money likely to be raised is a legitimate, substantive charitable donation. If so, trumpet the offer far and wide-as SpareFoot is doing with its Colorado flood relief.

2. Consider the qualifiers. Sometimes a promotion looks great until you drill down into the fine print and discover myriad exclusions and disclaimers. One of my least favorite is the offer applying only to "new" customers. Previous customers or existing ones who sign up for additional units are excluded. While this generally appears in promotions tied to free trials of a service or product versus charitable giving, make sure that your "don'ts" don't outweigh the "do's."

3. Look at transparency. The SpareFoot offer cuts to the chase. Rent a unit, get a check directly from SpareFoot. There seemingly isn't any hidden agenda or gimmick. And the cause is undeniably legitimate. When you're considering a charitable promotion, think both about how your offer will come across and the reputation of the charity recipient. Even some of the most prominent not-for-profits have come under fire for use of funds and other issues-so just make sure your charity is above reproach to the best of your ability.

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