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Sweet Charity

C-stores deepen their commitment to corporate giving.

​By Carol Angrisani

Giving back to communities is a core value for convenience stores. By supporting local and national charities, c-stores strengthen the areas they serve—and build customer loyalty.

More than three in four companies (78%) support five or more charities in their communities, according to a NACS member survey conducted in September 2014. And 83% of member companies have been involved in charitable giving for more than 10 years.

Additionally, NACS consumer surveys show that more than one in five consumers (22%) who say they don’t want a convenience store built in their area would support one if they knew it contributed to local charities.

“The good news is that the overwhelming percentage of convenience stores already are engaged in charitable giving,” said Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives at NACS. “It’s just a matter of telling your story to the community.” In-store signage and other forms of advertising are among the ways to accomplish this.

C-stores that have philanthropy initiatives in place benefit from improved customer engagement. Many consumers make buying decisions based just as much on how they feel about a company as on how they feel about the products and services it provides. When a company supports social or environmental issues, Americans say they would have a more positive image of that company (91%), be more likely to trust it (87%) and be more loyal (87%), according to the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global Corporate Social Responsibility study.

C-stores have plenty of choices when it comes to philanthropy. The key is first deciding which nonprofits will be the best fit with a chain’s demographics and the community’s values. Some businesses get started by conducting a survey of employees and customers to see which causes and nonprofits mean the most to them. Companies then narrow down the list by considering the size of the charity and its reach. The list can be streamlined even further by determining which charity best aligns with the company’s mission statement and business values.

One of the easiest and most convenient ways for companies to get involved is canister programs, where canisters are displayed on store counters for customers to deposit their loose change. Considering that more than 160 million people visit a U.S. c-store each day, the quarters, dimes and nickels can quickly add up to a sizeable donation.

Engage the Customers
Rutter’s shoppers play an active role in determining how the Pennsylvania-based chain’s charitable dollars are spent. When logging in to their loyalty accounts, shoppers select a nonprofit organization of their choice and their purchases are then recorded as votes for their charity. Based on the number of votes each organization gets, it may receive all or a portion of its funding request, up to $25,000. Called “Vote with Your Dollars,” the program is one of several new charitable initiatives Rutter’s has in place.

Through Rutter’s Vote with Your Dollars program, Make-A-Wish, York Food Bank and The Red Cross each received $25,000 last year. “As a family-owned company, we understand the importance of family and want to show that passion to our customers through philanthropic giving,” said Derek Gaskins, chief customer officer of Rutter’s.

Rutter’s also distributes Fundraising Coupon Books, which contain eight coupons worth more than $15 in savings. Youth groups, booster clubs or sports teams pay $5 per book, then sell each book for $10. Thousands of organizations have taken advantage of this program through the years.

Rutter’s has primarily, and deliberately, given to organizations focused on improving the lives of local children. Along with Make-a-Wish and the American Red Cross, organizations that the 62-store chain contributes to include children’s centers, schools, the York County Food Bank and the Crispus Attucks Association of York, which provides education services, human services, community development and affordable housing.

“We believe we are helping younger generations promote well-educated, healthy and happy, balanced lives,” said Gaskins. “We feel that by focusing our efforts on the younger generation, we will help shape their future adult years, and establish a legacy to pass down the benefits in their families.”

Last year, Rutter’s donated more than $235,000 to central Pennsylvania charities, bringing the company's charitable giving total to more than $5 million over the last 12 years.

Rutter’s is one of many convenience stores that has substantial charitable giving programs in place. Along with helping nonprofits provide valuable programs and services for those in need, these philanthropic efforts go a long way toward boosting consumer perception of c-stores.

For the Children
Speedway began raising funds for Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) Hospitals in 1991. Today, CMN Hospitals is Speedway’s primary charitable focus and the charity’s fourth largest contributor. Thirty-nine member hospitals in Speedway’s operating area directly benefit from these fundraising efforts, and for many of the hospitals, Speedway is their largest contributor. Through its acquisition of Hess, Speedway now supports an additional 30 CMN Hospitals.

Speedway uses canister programs as well as bowl-a-thons and employee payroll contribution programs, among other activities, to raise money for CMN. Speedway also holds the Speedway Miracle Tournament in Ohio—the largest single-day golf event benefiting CMN Hospitals. Last year, more than $2 million was raised during the event, according to CMN.

Through Speedway’s Miracle Children Program, patients—“Miracle Kids”—from local CMN hospitals visit stores, share their stories and relay the importance of why children’s hospitals rely on donations to fund critical treatments and services.

This year marks Speedway’s 25-year anniversary as a CMN Hospitals partner. To date, Speedway has raised more than $78 million for CMN. “This speaks to the commitment of our associates, customers and vendor partners and their dedication to making an impact on the health of kids in our communities,” Speedway President Tony Kenney said in a statement.

The support from Speedway and other c-stores helps CMN provide more valuable resources to its hospitals, said Clark Sweat, chief revenue officer at CMN. Most donations for children’s hospitals are raised $1 at a time from partners like convenience stores that want to help kids in their communities. “Convenience store customers are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends—all who know kids who have needed or may need a children’s hospital,” Sweat said. “That’s why their fundraisers are so successful.”

Casey’s General Stores and Love’s Travel Stops also partner with CMN. Casey’s became partners with CMN in 2014, and the company raises funds by selling Miracle Balloon paper icons at the register each February. The paper icons are displayed in the store. In its second year of fundraising, Casey’s raised more than $900,000 in just four weeks.

Each September, Love's customers help raise funds for CMN through in-store purchases of paper balloons valued at $1, $5 or $20. Stores host fundraising events including bake sales, cookouts, golf tournaments and more. Sunoco-operated Stripes and APlus stores have partnered with CMN since 2000, raising more than $9.5 million. Throughout April and May, Stripes and APlus Stores asked customers to “Put Their Money Where the Miracles Are” and purchase a $1 Miracle Balloon to raise funds for CMN. In 2015, more than $1.7 million was raised during the spring campaign.

Long-Term Partnerships
The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) is another nonprofit that has benefited from c-store fundraising efforts. McDonald Oil/Summit Stores, based in LaGrange, Georgia, recently raised more than $31,000 for MDA families during its 10th Annual Golf Classic.

The money raised will help the MDA provide services including flu shots, a summer camp for children ages 6-17, equipment maintenance and support groups. The program also helps to support MDA’s worldwide research program and national network of 200 medical clinics, including the MDA clinic at Emory and Scottish Rite in Atlanta.

Likewise, The Kroger Co.’s Loaf ‘N Jug c-store chain has been a March of Dimes corporate sponsor for years. Employees, vendors and customers have helped raise more than $2 million for March for Babies in the last seven years. The funds are used for research, services, education and advocacy.

Along with the March for Babies walk-a-thon, Loaf ‘N Jug raises funds for March of Dimes in other ways. One is by participating in “Blue Jeans for Babies,” in which employees who buy a “Blue Jeans for Babies” button for $5 or another amount are allowed to wear jeans to work or dress down for a designated day. Loaf ‘N Jug also gets involved by selling products from companies that support the March of Dimes. For instance, for each Bolder Band headband sold in its stores, a $6 donation is made to the March of Dimes.

Fundraising programs can range from simple canister fundraisers and balloon sales to more elaborate event sponsorships and golf outings. Regardless of the tactic, giving back in any form can strengthen a c-store’s connections with its customers and the community it serves.

Carol Angrisani is a New York-based writer who has been covering the food and beverage industries for more than 20 years. Visit her on Twitter at @carolangrisani1.