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How Ann Taylor and Loft Create Customer Loyalty Through Charitable Efforts Ann Taylor and Loft build up charities and customer loyalty at the same time -- here's how you can do it, too.

By Carol Roth

entrepreneur daily

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Matt Carasella | Patrick McMullan | Getty Images

Having a business mission allows businesses to extend their work into important causes. It makes employees and customers feel good about engaging with the business. In doing so, it can also be a great conduit for engendering customer loyalty.

I came across a great program from the Ann Taylor and Loft brands, a subsidiary of the Ascena Retail Group. Their approach serves as an interesting model for entrepreneurs of all sizes to create charitable efforts that not only are good for the charity, but also have a positive impact on the business as well. Here are some key takeaways for you to use as you pursue your own philanthropic efforts.

Related: 3 Ways to Maximize Your Company's Charitable Contributions

Design a win-win program.

The Ann Taylor and Loft brands wanted to find a way to have charitable giving become easy for the customer. This meant giving the customer a benefit for their participation in philanthropy. What they came up with is a special program called the Ann Taylor Cares card -- or Loft Cares card, depending on the originating retail store. Through their Ann Taylor and Loft stores, customers can purchase a special discount card during a promotional period for $25 (the current Ann Taylor promotional period is going on through May 14, 2018). 90 percent of the price of the card is donated directly to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). In exchange for their purchase and supporting the charitable cause, customers get discounts ranging from 20 percent to 25 percent off every purchase made during the promotional period.

This creates a win for customers, who not only get to participate in raising money for an important and relevant cause, but who receive discounts whereby the card purchase basically pays for itself and if they shop frequently, more than pays for itself.

This is a win for the business as well. By demonstrating their commitment to important causes, they let their associates and customers know that they aren't just in business for profit, but to help others and engage in the community and give back. Plus, for the associates at Ann Taylor and Loft, the program is truly a labor of love. They get to serve an important mission while helping provide value to their customers.

The program also encourages repeat business via the mechanism of a discount card that provides the discount during the period.

For your business, think about how you can give one or more direct benefits to your customer for their participation in your charitable efforts. This can drive increased sales, loyalty and philanthropic efficacy.

Related: 4 Ways to Engage Your Customers in Social Good -- And Why It Matters

Engage the right partner.

In addition to having a strong program, Ann Taylor and Loft stores has done a great job aligning with causes and partners. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation BCRF is the largest private funder of breast cancer research in the world and is also the highest rated breast cancer organization in the U.S., with a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. BCRF funding has been part of every major breakthrough in breast cancer research since its founding nearly 25 years ago.

Choosing BCRF makes good business sense, too. First, nearly everyone knows someone who has been affected by breast cancer, making the philanthropic efforts personal for Ann Taylor and Loft's customers and associates. Additionally, the metric-driven focus of their programs makes it easy for the company to communicate the importance of the program and benefits to their customer-partners.

In fact, Ann Taylor and Loft shares that, in conjunction with their customers, they have raised $37 million and funded over 751,000 research lab hours. This year, they are funding the work of 20 full-time BCRF-supporting researchers. Those numbers present a powerful story and results set that makes it easier to engage the customer.

"Ann Taylor and Loft are vital partners in our mission to be the end of breast cancer," says Myra Biblowit, President of BCRF, in an interview. "Through the Ann Taylor and Loft Cares Cards program, these have built a powerhouse engine, which is fueling advancements in life-saving research. The company's unparalleled dedication and critical financial contributions are helping to us get one step closer to eradicating breast cancer."

Finding partners that resonate with your own customer base as well as who have great track records that can help you explain how your philanthropy is being used effectively can help engender a more successful program.

Related: 10 Ways Small Businesses Can Give Back Without Breaking the Bank

Make it easy for the customer.

Sometimes, the intention of a program is great, but it is difficult to execute. A discount card program like Ann Taylor Cares makes it easy to implement. An associate asks customers in store and at checkout if they would like to purchase the card, explains the philanthropic efforts and explains the benefits to customers. The same story is also mirrored online. This makes it easy for every participant at multiple touchpoints, whether it is the ease of employees engaging customers, customers participating or customers telling other customers about the program. Plus, the discount compared to the initial buy-in makes it easy for the customer to say "yes" to begin with.

As you think about your own efforts, make it easy for all participants to enact a program to increase the outcomes for your philanthropic partners and the loyalty effects from your customer base.

Carol Roth

Entrepreneur, TV host and small business expert

Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File™ legacy planning system, a “recovering” investment banker, business advisor, entrepreneur and best-selling author. She is also a reality TV show judge, media contributor and host of Microsoft’s Office Small Business Academy. A small business expert, Roth has worked with companies of all sizes on everything from strategy to content creation and marketing to raising capital. She’s been a public company director and invests in mid-stage companies, as well.

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