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    How Chipotle Helped Raise Over $20M in Fundraisers in 2017

  • A customized web app dramatically enhanced the chain's capacity to give back.

    Chipotle
    Chipotle's fundraising efforts are a key part of the company's ethos.

    When you consider today’s socially conscious consumer and the Gen Z wave to follow, putting forth these kind of numbers is no small feat.

    This past year, Chipotle worked with more than 59,000 organizations for fundraisers. That’s 1,000-plus per week. These fundraisers generated donations north of $20 million for groups, everything from youth sports teams to animal rescues to school PTOs.

    Rewind back a couple of years, however, and the sheer volume gives Kevin McCulloch, Chipotle’s community roots manager, equal parts anxiety and pride. That’s a lot of sticky notes, numbers written on napkins, spreadsheets, and promised call-backs at the restaurant level. It wasn’t uncommon for the team to receive upward of 500 emails per day.

    “As we started discussing it more and encouraging our restaurants to participate in the program further what we found was that demand for them was overwhelming,” he says.

    For participants, 33 percent of each Chipotle order their supporters place go to the organization they pick. So given the brand value, social benefit, and ability to inspire loyal and repeat guests, as well as the financial ramifications, Chipotle had a lot to gain by bettering its fundraising platform.

    In stepped Voltage, Chipotle’s digital agency out of Colorado. Voltage took a look at Chipotle’s processes and recognized it needed to create a system capable of addressing several pain points.

    Steven Cook, president and COO of Voltage, says when the parties connected, there was simply no platform capable of addressing these issues in-house—they had to build one. Voltage created what’s called the “Restaurant Marketing Manager,” a system that combines a marketing calendar, promo and specials app, and a fundraiser scheduler. It helps prevent scheduling conflicts among promotion days, fundraising days, and high-traffic store hours. Automated reminders and reporting tools also send organizations and Chipotle’s internal team reminders, fundraising reports, and financial metrics.

    The results: Chipotle saw a 240 percent increase in the number of fundraisers it could host. It also freed up 60 percent of its staff’s time.

    Cook says the platform was inspired by customization. There are customized social media assets. Customized flyers. It fits Chipotle to the tee.

    “We ended up with a very customized and professional tool that removed a lot of the human error elements, a lot of the tedious human tasks that have to be done sans so many emails and text messages and calendars,” he says. “Just about everything that was done by hand before now fits nicely and is automated with this tool.”

    "It’s amazing to see on the local level that a corporation can make such a big difference.” — Emily Kucera, Chipotle's community roots coordinator.

    McCulloch doesn’t hesitate calling it a “game-changer” for Chipotle. It’s allowed the brand to focus on the guest experience and divert its resources to customers, not paperwork.

    Emily Kucera, Chipotle’s community roots coordinator, says its rewritten the guest-brand relationship as well. Instead of the back-and-forth tax discussion, now it’s a back-and-forth chat “with a face and a name from the coach that we helped get new uniforms,” she says.

    “It’s just wonderful to hear the success stories and actually have that partnership, not only on a fundraising level, but also a personalized thank-you-for-what-we-did level. It’s amazing to see on the local level that a corporation can make such a big difference.”

    When you talk about a chain with 2,000-plus units, this kind of grassroots impact is critical, Kucera adds. Hosting large, national campaigns with top-level non-profits is one thing. Having the local PTA send over a thank-you letter is another.

    “It’s a perk of course when they come in and send us a thank you of, ‘Hey we’ll be back, we love the food.’ But the bottom line, especially just of our own team and our own course of action, is just making sure we actually help them fundraise the money they need to get the things they need to do through the fundraising,” she says.

    Cook says the software is still evolving. New features in 2018 include self-serve fundraiser rescheduling, automatic organization tax state verification, and self-serve promotional flyers. The app refresh removes ambiguity for non-profit organizations by answering questions and shepherding organizations through otherwise confusing tax and logistical processes.

    Another benefit, McCulloch says, is the instant gratification of the system, which is far more effective than waiting to have a call returned.

    “Similar to anything else that’s on demand, online these days, people don’t want ambiguity on it,” he says. “They want an answer right now. And if something is available or not, and this gave us that option. … I wish it was as easy as opening the cash register drawer at the end of the night and handing them some cash, but unfortunately with the government paperwork and everything else that goes with it, all of the compliance on these things, it’s really important that we dot our eyes and cross our ts, and this allows us to do it in a way that’s faster and captures the information more accurately than ever before.”