In 2002, Sailormen Inc., the largest domestic Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen franchisee, established a partnership with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and began planning a course of action to raise funds for the cause.

Eleven years and $4 million later, it has proved to be an enormous success.

Bob Berg, CEO of Sailormen Inc., says it’s important for quick-serve operators to team up with a cause in which the message aligns with their company's beliefs. He suggests pursuing campaigns and programs that mesh with the company's structure and engaging employees in the fundraising process.

The success of a philanthropic program is highly dependent upon how well the message resonates with the consumers and employees of a certain company, Berg says. He believes the MDA connects well with Popeyes customers because the money raised through the in-store “Appetite for a Cure” program is able to help individuals and families within their own community.

“MDA does a good job of working with us to help raise the money, and they’re also a big help when it comes to the golf tournament in providing volunteers to work,” Berg says. “They are very diligent in making sure that the money we raise in various local communities actually stays in those communities.”

The MDA is a nonprofit health agency dedicated to finding treatments and cures for muscular dystrophy, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), and related diseases that are affecting more than 1 million Americans. In addition to funding more than 250 research projects worldwide, MDA maintains a national network of 200 medical clinics; facilitates support groups for families affected by neuromuscular diseases; and provides local summer camp opportunities for thousands of children with progressive muscle diseases.

This year alone, Sailormen Inc. has contributed $670,000 to MDA through the “Appetite for a Cure” program and the annual Golf Classic. The “Appetite for a Cure” program, running from January 28 to March 17, raised $503,000 through the sale of $1 coupon cards in stores, while the May 9 Golf Classic hosted by Sailormen Inc. raised over $167,000.

“Golf seems to be the sport that most of our vendors, suppliers, and friends of the company all seem to have in common,” Berg says. “We use the golf tournament more or less as a way for all of us to get together to celebrate the amount of money that has been raised for the cause.”

It is crucial to have the employees on board with and excited about the fundraising efforts, he says. Without their enthusiasm, many times philanthropic efforts fall short of the end goal. In-store employees are the primary connection between the company and consumers, thus making them the primary advocates for the cause.

“We have set up reward programs and internal contests, which creates a camaraderie within the company,” Berg says. “It's a great honor within the company to achieve the largest amount of money raised in your particular store.”

By Marlee Murphy

Charitable Giving, Consumer Trends, Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Marketing & Promotions, News, Restaurant Operations, Popeyes