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‘Fair and Square’ and Philanthropic

July 06, 2012

The JCPenney Company, which was founded over a hundred years ago by James Cash Penney on the principle of treating customers "fair and square," recently launched a new charitable giving program called jcp cares that aims to build stronger communities across the country.

Through the program, the company plans to support a different cause or charity each month, for at least the next six months, with direct contributions and donations from customers. The first six charities selected to receive support through the program are the USO (July), 4-H and the Boys & Girls Club of America (August), Teach for America (September), the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (October), Share Our Strength (November), and the Salvation Army (December).

As someone not privy to the closed-door discussions that led to the selection of the six charities, I find myself wondering how the company came up with its list. Okay, some of the choices are obvious. This month's charity, the USO, supports military personnel and their families -- an entirely appropriate choice in a month that includes Independence Day. Similarly, Teach for America is an obvious choice for everyone's favorite back-to-school month, and what could be more appropriate than supporting the Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign in December.

But in an era when companies, like almost everybody else, need to compete for the dollars and attention of consumers, you might expect JCPenney to be a little more creative about how it engages customers in its philanthropy. For example, what about asking customers for nominations of organizations deserving of the company's support via Facebook or Twitter? Or, taking it a step further, being more transparent about the actual selection process it did employ?

The company has said that, from July 23 to July 31, it will donate $1 -- up to $50,000 -- to its July partner, the USO, for every customer that checks in at a JCP location via foursquare. It has also launched a dedicated page on BroadCause where customers can share their personal stories and has said in its press release that it will engage charitably minded customers through the Facebook game WeTopia. I just hope the company has a long-term vision for its corporate giving that goes beyond "clicktivism."

What do you think? Am I being grumpy, or should the company be doing more to engage its customers in its new charitable giving program? Share your thoughts in the comments selection below.

-- Regina Mahone

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Interesting post Regina. I was at a JCPenney store over the weekend and was asked at the cash register if I wanted to round up my payment to the nearest whole dollar to "support our troops" (via the USO). So it is nice to know the background story to the campaign. Presumably JCPenney involved its staff in the decision and I was impressed by the way in which the guy at the cash register made his appeal. That kind of staff involvement all the way down the line can only speak well for morale and employee engagement.

I wonder if JCPenney didn't involve their customers in the decision because of their origins as more of a brick retailer than a click retailer?

Regina I think you hit it right on the money. I love the idea of the campaign. In a world full of marketing and available statistics, I'm hopeful that their campaign analyzed each market that their company serves.

Thereby getting the most bang for their buck and the most impact for their dollars donated. That way they can say, Hey in X city we donated $$$ to $$$ because they needed $$$. Instead of just giving $$$ to a popular organization that has a known brand behind it.

Would their $$$ go to waste in Wal-Mart Country?
No, but they wouldn't get the proper recognition.

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