Rewards for Relief: The Power of Charitable Member Engagement


Share on LinkedIn

It has become a familiar and comforting rite after each of the biggest disasters of the past decade, including the September 11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami: companies that run loyalty programs announcing that their members can donate points, miles or cash toward relief efforts.

The response by loyalty programs to the Haiti earthquake has been as strong, if not stronger, than any of these previous disasters. Nearly every airline and hotel program currently offers member donation options for Haiti relief, for example, as well as many cruise companies, banks and telecommunications firms. But how successful are these programs? How can companies make the process as seamless as possible? And can doing good in this way be good for business?

One thing is clear: These are no cookie-cutter efforts—instead, each organization has developed its own process that it believes works best for its members and its corporate charitable goals. And for many, these processes have been in place for some time now, deployed after several disasters thus far. And they continue to grow and evolve.

Verizon’s Business Link Rewards, for example, has been refining its rewards donation process since 9/11, when $297,000 was sent to the Red Cross thanks to the donation of over 29 million bonus credits. Today, the program works with Charity Choice, which offers charity gift cards and certificates, as a way to streamline donation efforts and enable members to donate to a variety of charities year-round.

The AIR MILES Reward Program announced a partnership with the Canadian Red Cross enabling its collectors to donate AIR MILES reward miles to help with relief efforts in Haiti following the devastating earthquake. A charity reward redemption of 200 reward miles was converted to a $25 cash donation by AIR MILES. AIR MILES members donated $352,050 and the Canadian government matched all donations, bringing the contribution to $704,100. In addition to facilitating collector donations to the Red Cross, AIR MILES coordinated an employee donation program to raise additional funds by donating their reward miles.

Similarly, American Airlines solicited cash donations to the Red Cross in return for AAdvantage bonus miles. This has paid off handsomely, with an estimated $600,000 already collected for Haiti. For each donation of $50, a member earns 250 bonus miles, or 500 bonus miles for a $100 contribution.

Citi, through its ThankYou Network rewards program, decided to go the more traditional points-for-donation route, offering a $50 dollar donation for 5000 points and $100 for 10000 points.

So how do you make sure your donation program is seamless, simple and, most importantly, successful?

1. Make it easy to donate. Require round numbers for donation—100 points as opposed to 153, for example—can streamline the process.

2. Be sure a communications process is in place. With a donation program, implementing the process and getting the word out to members requires team members from across the company to work together—including corporate communications, public relations, marketing and IT. And turnaround is expected to be quicker than in the past. American Airlines needed only 36 hours to get the relief effort underway—the earthquake took place on Jan. 12, and began supporting donations by the morning of Jan. 14.

3. Take an integrated approach to spread the word. Making sure the program is posted on your web site and sending out a press release isn’t enough to communicate your efforts. Today, companies routinely send email, and post on Facebook and Twitter about the options to donate.

However you decide to structure a program and implement the process, when it comes to a loyalty program’s charitable donations, the bottom line is not necessarily the company’s bottom line—but creating an added connection with members and giving them what they want is invaluable.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here