Article Date: 10/1/2009

Make a Difference — Improve Your Practice

Make a Difference — Improve Your Practice

Cause-related marketing can give your practice a competitive edge. Here's how.

BURT W. DUBOW, O.D., F.A.A.O. St. Cloud, Minn.

In recent years, my practice has been approached by so many charities that I decided to approach giving from a different perspective. Instead of just writing a check in return for a tax receipt, my practice would integrate philanthropy into its marketing plan. That is, through a cause-related marketing (CRM) program, we would leverage our charitable dollars and use our philanthropic support to increase our visibility within the community. This “cause” would build our image in the eyes of both our staff and patients. And as our image grew, so would support for our cause, thus creating a win-win situation.

CRM programs have been in existence for several decades. One of the most famous — and successful — examples is the involvement of American Express in the “Statue of Liberty Restoration Project.” In 1983, American Express announced it would contribute one cent to the project each time an American Express card was used. The company also contributed $1 for each new American Express card issued. The result: Card usage grew by 28%, the new card holders increased by 45%, and Lady Liberty received a complete makeover.

The campaign's success popularized the CRM term and gave rise to the phrase, “Doing good is good for business.”

Today, companies around the world — with interests as diverse as banking and pharmaceuticals — participate in CRM efforts. Fortunately, CRM aren't only within the reach of large corporations. For example, Optometric practices of all sizes can take advantage of philanthropic programs that allow them to jump on the “bandwagon.” (See “Finding The Right Cause,” below.)


Why CRM?

So, why get involved in a CRM program? The obvious answer: to demonstrate social responsibility. Also, I'd argue that there are three very powerful bottom-line business reasons to consider CRM:

► Supporting a good cause can enhance a practice's image and increase a patient's commitment to the practice.
► CRM can differentiate one brand from another.
► CRM can help increase practice revenue.

CRM can help to build loyalty to an organization or brand even when challenged by the sales and promotional efforts of similar organizations. Consumers regard good corporate citizenship as a critical part of their buying decision, according to marketing consultant Hailey Cavill of Australia's Cavill & Co.

On its Web site, the Australian marketing firm B&T estimates that as many as six out of 10 consumers expect companies to support charitable or community causes.

In my experience, CRM does increase customer loyalty. We've found that patients are likely to return to us when they like, trust and associate us with helping others.

Further, employees often cite their employer's charitable giving as one of the reasons they are proud to work for their employer.

Of course, none of these reasons should overshadow the most obvious reason to give — owners, or managers, want to make a difference — people give to people after all.

Finding the Right Cause

How can you take advantage of cause-related marketing? The first step is to identify a program that is relevant to your practice's mission. You may find a local cause that “fits.” For example, if you offer sports vision services, you may join a campaign to develop local public recreation facilities.

You can also take advantage of national and international campaigns that fit your mission. For example, when we think of optometry, we think of vision correction — and several charities address vision correction and eye health, including:

► Optometry Giving Sight targets the prevention of blindness and impaired vision due to uncorrected refractive error. Call (888) OGS-GIVE, or visit for information.
► Optometry's Charity, the AOA Foundation, manages two community health programs, VISION USA and InfantSEE, administers Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief, provides scholarship grants for educational assistance and maintains the Archives and Museum for the Optometric profession. For information on all of these efforts, visit
► The American Optometric Foundation, an affiliate of the American Academy of Optometry, is devoted to the advancement of Optometric education and research. For information, visit

Citing OGS as an example, here's how two practices integrated CRM programs into their operations. OGS established a year-round program, “Seeing Eye to Eye.” With this program, a practice donates to OGS between $2.00 to $5.00 for each frame sale or eye exam. As do other charities, OGS makes start-up easy by providing posters, counter cards and press releases to promote the practice's involvement to patients and the community.

Cynthia Willis, O.D., explains how the program worked in her practice: “In fall 2007, our optometrists pledged to donate $5.00 for every new frame purchased by our patients in our optical department. Not only does the program raise cash for OGS, It is easy to implement and one more reason why patients might want to buy their eyewear from us.”

A more time-focused event is OGS's “World Sight Day Challenge” (WSDC), which occurs every October. Here, practices pledge a day's worth of eye exam revenue or a significant donation to OGS. Enrollment in WSDC tripled last year, and many participants gained publicity from their local media.

“The World Sight Day Challenge highlighted to our patients how a simple pair of glasses makes a huge difference to someone's life in the developing world,” says optometrist Paul Neumann. “The feedback from our patients for our support of Optometry Giving Sight was very positive. And the local newspaper printed a great article about it with a photo of the staff in our WSDC shirts.”

Become involved

There are a number of issues to consider before becoming involved in CRM programs. First, think about whether you want a time-focused event or a year-round philanthropic program integrated into your practice marketing plan. Short-term events tend to get more media attention, but they do require some staff time to organize. As a result, a year-round program is easier to operate. With the right initial set-up and internal promotion, it attracts year-round patient attention, but because the event isn't timely, it may not receive as much media coverage. Some practices choose to become involved in both long- and short-term programs, as they complement each other very well.

Regardless of the type of program(s) you choose, CRM does require more effort than merely sticking a charity's logo on a product and expecting the public to react. Consumers may become cynical — they understand there's some self-interest involved in CRM programs.

To be most effective, then, your program must demonstrate a close connection between the product and the charitable cause — a connection that is easily understood by the public.

A great example occurred when Procter & Gamble donated the cost of one dose of tetanus vaccine (equivalent to about seven cents) to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for every specially-marked package of Pampers products sold. Beautiful bouncing healthy children both here and in the developing world — now isn't that a compelling reason to buy Pampers?

With the right charity, you'll find that patients, staff and the community will become more interested — and involved — in your practice. Do well for your practice by doing good. OM

Dr. Dubow is the senior doctor at Insight Eye Care, a three-doctor, three-office practice in central Minnesota. Dr. Dubow has written and lectured internationally. He is a past chair of the American Optometric Association's Cornea and Contact Lens Section and a Distinguished Fellow of the National Academy of Practice.

Optometric Management, Issue: October 2009