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Sam's Club: Charity Begins On-Line

Sam's Club has launched an initiative, Giving Made Simple, that asks its members to vote on which charities will gain from a $4 million donation pool. It might also be called "Giving Made Strategic."

By convincing members to participate in online voting, the idea is that the Walmart (WMT) warehouse club division will also draw them to its website, Twitter and Facebook pages, and into a deeper connection with the company. Here's how it works: The retailer is asking members to visit and vote on how it will distribute the $4 million to eight selected nonprofit organizations.

Sam's Club chose the organizations based on their relevance to education and entrepreneurship. The eight are Kiva, Community Reinvestment Fund, USA, Corporation for Enterprise Development, Accion USA, Junior Achievement, YMCA, Girls, Inc., and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. Voters can receive updates on how the polls are going by following the Sam's Club Twitter and Facebook pages.
Sam's Club has focused on building its involvement with small businesses, and the charitable initiative represents an additional connection. Local education is a critical issue for small businesses who draw employees, for example, because they draw employees from the community. And backing for entrepreneurs can translate to substantial support for small business.

The new initiative isn't meant to supplant Sam's other charitable efforts, many of them local initiatives conducted by the individual clubs.

Susan Koehler, a Sam's spokeswoman, noted that warehouse clubs can build closer relationships with their customers by building on their membership structure. Members who participate in a club's charitable giving are, after all, involving themselves more deeply than is usually the case with the retailers they shop.

"Sam's Club wanted to do something to get their feedback and participation, and, in doing that, they're investing more in their membership," she said.

Among the interesting elements of the Giving Made Simple initiative is that, by making itself a conduit to giving, Sam's is applying an approach to charity that businesses use to build loyalty among employees. It may not be quite the same as a organizing a company walk-a-thon team but the general idea is similar. Sam's is, by the way, also giving its workers a vote on how the charity money will be spent, making the initiative that much more efficient in how it serves the retailer's interests.

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