Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This year's Giving Season Gimmick - Coupons for Charity

It's not even Halloween and I'm doubling down, ready for the onslaught of Giving Season Gimmicks. No way am I going to naively wait until November for this to start. Heck, I've been thinking about it since back-to-school shopping wrapped up. I just thought I'd let you wait a little longer.

I've been expecting this. Groupon, the social coupon clipping service has gone charitable.

In Cleveland, the Museum of Natural History offered discounted family memberships via Groupon - see this post from Musematic.

In San Francisco in April they offered a deal on membership in the Golden Gate National Parks Association.

In Chicago you can join The Art Institute; in Charlotte there are discounted memberships at The Light Factory (a museum of photography and film); and in Indiana you can join the State Science Center.My Twitter friends tell me this has been used at SF Conservatory of Flowers, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Asian Art Museum, and NYC's Whitney. Nina Simon's Museum 2.0 blog has some other great examples of how museums are working with Groupon.

Groupon isn't the only game in town - there is LivingSocial, Twongo, and SocialBuy as well. These offer discounted memberships at local organizations. Groupon also heavily promotes its G-Team corporate philanthropic efforts, which amounts to placing ads for nonprofits next to the daily deals. LivingSocial counters with LivingSocial Charities. Groupon and The Point come together to support nonprofits.

An alternative approach, that taken by CauseOn, is to offer coupons for products (as do the others) but 20% of the price goes to support a cause.

One more sign of the pervasive embeddedness of giving. And this is my guess for "Gimmick of Giving Season 2010" - watch for all kinds of cross promotions between charities, coupon sites, and merchandisers coming soon to a web browser, app store, and social network near you.

Regular readers, by now you know the questions I'm asking:

Membership coupons:
  • Who keeps the data on users? From what I was told the museums only get the data after someone who's bought the coupon takes the next step and signs up. Groupon keeps email and cell phone info?
  • How is discounted price split between museum and Groupon? One source told me its 50/50.
  • Do organizations get all the membership info they need from folks who use this to join?
  • To whom are the sites selling those data?
  • How do the costs of using these sites compare to direct mail costs for reaching potential new members?
  • What are retention rates for members who sign up this way? (Maybe too soon to tell?)
Advertising deals:
  • How much money actually gets to nonprofits? (for the ad click throughs)
  • How can we check up on the claims about where the money from ads clicked goes?


Nina Simon said...

Hi Lucy,

There's actually a ton of information about the money split and data on the Groupon blog (at least for that service). Also, here's a comparison on some of the nuts and bolts between Groupon and LivingSocial.


Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks for pointing me to this. I will give Groupon credit for their forthrightedness about the information. That is a good thing. I particularly like the way they are open about what information goes where. In their blog post about personalized deals, for example, (http://groublogpon.com/cities/personalized-deals/) they note that the service "Will start out dumb, like a baby) and it gets smarter as more people use it.

This recognizes how familiar so many of us are now with how these services work, the network effect, and the value of our personal data. Much better to treat your customers as smart and willing participants making a deal with you than as idiots blindly handing over valuable info for a $5 off coupon.

From what I've heard most of the musuems who've used these services have been pretty happy. The costs of acquiring new members are high, and this might be a way to lower those costs. We'll see once onversion and retention rates come into play.

Thanks, Nina, for writing in.