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This article by Barbara Fox was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on September 2, 1998. All rights reserved.
Foundation with an Affinity
When your alma mater pleads with you to use its credit
card — or even a paid telephone card — affinity marketing
is at work.
A newcomer to Princeton’s foundation world, the Forrestal Village-based
World of Knowledge Foundation is riding the tide of this latest trend
in charity fund-raising. It receives funds through a Florida-based
telemarketing firm, International Community Marketing, which has various
affinity or "cause marketing" projects.
"Our mission is to support education in America’s culturally diverse
communities," says Janice Burg-Levi, executive director and one
of three employees at the foundation.
Since it opened its purse in September, 1997, the foundation has given
away more than $200,000. It could continue inching along at that rate
— or it could grow astronomically. "If you look at how the
Ronald McDonald Foundation started," says Ruth Nelson, a Dallas-based
consultant (http://www.brvc.com), "a blue chip company decided there was a way to have
direct input in how its money was distributed and they choose the
demographics they wish to target. That is a marketing strategy that
makes a lot of sense."
ICM specializes in such affinity marketing (http://www.icm.com.
To thank current AT&T
customers for their loyalty, and to prevent another firm from "churning
the market," ICM tells customers that AT&T will contribute up
to five percent of their long distance bills to the World of Knowledge.
Before the foundation was organized, ICM had more than 900 affinity
causes, from the New York Chinese School to the Bosnian Relief Fund
and the India Pakistan Friendship Association. Though some generated
enough cash to make worthwhile donations, others got only small amounts.
When these small associations contribute to one umbrella organization,
it will help them have greater impact, Burg-Levi suggests, and it
will also help the telemarketer.
"If you offer a product or service and link it with cause-related
marketing, the customer will more than likely think twice before they
switch," she says. "It is a retention strategy and everybody
Burg-Levi declines to say whether AT&T is ICM’s sole client or how
much of ICM’s business AT&T comprises. In addition to revenues generated
by ICM she also expects to do traditional fundraising through direct
mail. "Since we are a new foundation all our funding comes from
ICM, but we are getting some good traction and are about to start
soliciting donations from others as well," she says.
Affinity marketing for credit cards and phone cards is getting to
be standard, and long-distance sales is just another variation, says
Paul Clolery, editor in chief of the Nonprofit Times (formerly located
in Princeton, now published in Cedar Knoll, New Jersey http://www.nptimes.com).
the classic hit-the-nail on the head affinity program. You go to a
university and say, `Get your alumni to sign up for a credit card
and we will give you a piece of the action.’"
Affinity marketing does work, agrees Nelson, who specializes in prepaid
phone cards. In 1990 a large Dallas department store rejected a bid
from a telecommunications firm to sell these cards. "A year later
I pitched an affinity card for a local charity that they had been
supporting, and they didn’t think twice before saying yes. Nonprofits
drive traffic into a retail store."
Nelson quotes a 1994 study by Roper Starch Worldwide
in which 66 percent of the consumers surveyed said they would be more
likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause. In a
later survey of executive opinions on cause marketing, half of the
executives cited increasing sales as a major reason to be charitable,
but 93 percent thought it would build deeper relationships with customers,
enhance corporate image and reputation (89 percent) and create or
maintain a compelling corporate purpose (59 percent).
The World of Knowledge has affiliated itself with the Foundation Center,
the New York Regional Association for Grantmakers and the New Jersey
Center for Non-Profit Corporations. Burg-Levi says she was hired for
her marketing expertise, and that "more than one person" came
to her to ask her to do this. "Let’s just say I am very well known
in the industry."
Burg-Levi majored in journalism at the University of Maryland, Class
of 1979, and worked for advertising agencies in the District of Columbia
and New York.At AT&T in Bridgewater she had been district manager
for business markets.
"I started from scratch in my basement," says Burg-Levi. She
moved the office to Forrestal Village "because Princeton is the
heart for education" as well as because it is convenient to the
nation’s capital. "I go down a lot for lobbying and dealing with
professional issues." Stacey Pinkstone is director of marketing
and Carol Campbell the administrative assistant.
World of Knowledge grants already completed include $140,000 given
in prizes to undergraduate and high school students who entered essay
contests, $20,000 to schools in Orange County, Florida, and $50,000
to winners of a competition for foreign graduate students. This essay
contest involved writing a letter to a friend in their native county
giving advice on relocating to the United States. To be announced
soon: a web page design program for high school and college students
to trace their family heritage. At http://www.today-tomorrow.org
students can find out about the competitions online.
To be announced this month is "Me, My Heritage, My World: Art
and Photography Competition." Children in three age groups, from
ages five to 14, will draw or photograph themselves, what their heritage
means to them, or (for the older ones) a representation of cultural
diversity. Art experts from this area will be the judges (volunteers,
who receive an honorarium) and the prizes will be savings bonds of
$1,000, $1,500, and $2,000.
Another current project is $100,000 for vo-tech students who concoct
community outreach programs. "We believe that, with funding, students
can use their skills to change people’s lives while developing a marketable
skill," says Burg-Levi. Students in Middlesex County are among
Burg-Levi was attracted by the premise for America’s Promise, jump-started
by the volunteerism convention in Philadelphia. It aims to help at-risk
youth, teaching them marketable skills and to "give back"
to the community (http://www.americaspromise.org).
When asked for documents that nonprofits are required to publicly
file (with respect to revenues, expenses, and disbursements), Burg-Levi
said that, since her organization was less than a year old, these
documents were not yet available.
Her board of trustees consists of a former Boy Scout executive and
chief contracting officer of the Panama Canal (Mike Baker), a language
arts teacher and founder of a marketing agency (Lauri Lott), a psychiatrist
who is the clinical director of Scripps Behavioral Health Association
(Hussam Mihtar M.D.), and a finance executive who is charge of the
budgeting and benefits, (Dennis Veccia).
"I do believe we have found a unique niche and have struck a chord
in society with a need that has been unfulfilled," says Burg-Levi.
"The stories we get are incredible. I get E-mail from places around
the world that would blow your mind." Letter writers range from
a nun in Malaysia who wants to earn her PhD to children as young as
10, and they ask for both money and advice.
Several factors could encourage this foundation’s success. The most
obvious is that the Asia and Pacific Rim market is wide open for telecommunications
firms and seems to be a perfect fit for this foundation’s demographics.
The second, much slimmer, possibility is that somehow this foundation
could end up being associated with the AT&T Foundation, which gives
more than $12 million or 34 percent of its annual grants to educational
charities but does not give to individuals (http://www.att.com/foundation). When asked, the AT&T Foundation
disavowed any connection whatsoever with the World of Knowledge Foundation.
Still, Nelson speculates that the World of Knowledge’s initial low
profile may be part of the strategy, and that only after it is successful
will AT&T identify with it in a major way. "They were quiet about
Lucent at first." And the Ronald McDonald Foundation started out
— Barbara Fox
Suite 250, Princeton 08540. Janice Burg-Levi, executive director.
609-419-9088; fax, 609-419-9079. URL: http://www.today-tomorrow.org.
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