A quick Google search for restaurant fundraisers will return paid ads from Chipotle and Panda Express. They’re actively—and financially—recruiting organizations, from PTAs to sports teams, to host events in-store and collect donations. “What do they know about the benefits of running fundraisers that the rest of us don’t know?” says Steven Cook, cofounder of Force4Good.
He believes he has a pretty good idea.
Before creating Force4Good in August 2019, Cook spent more than 13 years at Voltage Advertising + Design. The company, at one point, helped Chipotle created a “Restaurant Marketing Manager” system that combined a calendar, promo and specials app, and a fundraiser schedule. The result—Chipotle saw a 240 percent increase in the number of fundraisers it could take on.
During a stretch in June 2018, Chipotle was hosting 1,000-plus fundraisers per week, which generated donations north of $20 million.
After several years of working with the 3,000-unit fast casual on the effort, Cook ventured out to create Force4Good. Back then, he says, fundraising was something on Chipotle’s radar and some other brands, but it wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. Force4Good ran through some early iterations and hit the COVID wall like others (there weren’t a lot of community events taking place in 2020’s pandemic depths). But the program picked up last summer, Cook says. Force4Good signed its first contract, built out the program, did a soft release in November, and held its official launch in January 2022.
The dressed-down version is this: Force4Good offers an open SaaS product that can help restaurants create a fundraising program.
Before getting into the platform’s specifics, Cook wants to circle back to the first point. Why are Chipotle and Panda Express forking up funds to get fundraisers into locations?
It goes beyond the obvious aim of doing good by a restaurant’s community. Cook says fundraisers increase sales and attract loyal guests. And he has the metrics to support it.
The average fundraiser, he says, typically brings in about $650 in sales during the event and $136.50 in donations. Forty percent of those customers who show up are new ones. “It’s a huge growth and acquisition tool,” Cook says. On average, Force4Good says its fundraisers result in 20 fresh customers.
The company’s data notes new customers acquired through fundraisers are 16–24 percent more loyal. You can bump these on low-traffic days, too.
Generally, Cook says, the upside of fundraisers isn’t a hard sell for restaurants. It’s the logistics that get muddy.
There are calendars and marketing materials and tax considerations. Donor acknowledge statements and qualified non-profits or other labels. Since launching in January, Force4Good has conducted a few studies, Cook says, and discovered its platform saves about 77 hours of administration time per year. “Yes, they know it does good,” he says of restaurant owners. “They either want to grow their customer base or they want to grow their sales. And we basically show them, my goodness, if you want to grow new customers, you can spend $100 on Facebook and maybe convert two, maybe three new customers. Give them a half-off coupon, right? And here people come in half-price and you get a lifetime value of two or three people.”
So take that same $100, spend it on a fundraiser, and get 13 new customers and 19 return guests. They’ll eat at full price when they’re in-store and, as noted previously, data shows a good portion will come back. “Often times, we’ll show restaurants if set up the program, automate it, and then do enough of these and this is how you can grow your revenue 10 percent over the course of one year. Just fundraising,” Cook says.
Force4Good addresses pain points. It handholds the non-profit. The platform creates a micro-site just about fundraising for the restaurant. There it will house all the information about fundraising and create a page where a non-profit can decide if they want to fundraise and fill out a step-by-step application.
If that turns into a fundraiser, Force4Good automatically flexes the tax information and generates the marketing materials. It can give the PTA, etc., a webpage and flyers and prefilled social media. It then sends an automated email campaign to the group that explains how to market and get people into the restaurant.
When a fundraiser results in less than $50 in sales (roughly four entrées or less), Cook calls them a “no show” event (7.6 percent of scheduled fundraisers fall into this bucket). The average sales total per scheduled fundraiser is $649.76. So if the 7.6 percent of “no show” events are removed, the average sales total per attended fundraiser jumps up to $702.37.
Force4Good’s data tries to predict this on the back-end. By learning which type of organizations fundraise the most, it can help restaurants figure who to market to and when.
Percentage of approved fundraisers by type:
- 29 percent: Public School K–12
- 16 percent: School PTA or PTO
- 14 percent: Club
- 10 percent: Other
- 9 percent: Sports Team
- 8 percent: School Booster
- 4 percent: Private School K–12
- 3 percent: Health/Wellness
- 3 percent: Public College of University
- 1 percent: Music Group
- 1 percent: Sorority
- 1 percent: Fraternity
- 1 percent: Private College or University
Public schools, PTA/PTO, and school boosters make up more than half of fundraisers. Music, sports, and school groups are the most reliable organizations, while fraternities don’t show up to 25 percent of their scheduled fundraisers.
Additionally, school fundraisers bring in the most fundraiser sales (averaging $700–$1,000 per event), while university fundraisers bring in the least (averaging $200–$300 in sales).
“It’s kind of the whole flow and process is defined through our platform,” Cook says. “In fact, the objective is, as a restaurant, once this thing is set up and put into implementation, really all that you have to do is log in at certain key points and give approval. It all comes down to check boxing yes, I want to work with them, or no, I don’t. Yes, this is an organization that would represent us well or no. Yes, we’re ready to pay them. Those kinds of things.”
Force4Good isn’t going to come in and entirely market for the restaurant. The operator decides how they want to put the program into the world. What they get is the website, login platform, reporting, calendaring, management, and automation. All told, the Force4Good platform automates 97 percent of the work involved in running an effective fundraiser program, it says.
The rest is customized to a restaurant’s own mission.
Force4Good’s goal is to organize a million community fundraisers by 2025. It’s worked with brands like MOD Pizza, Roti, QDOBA, and Freddy’s.
Cook says fundraising is only gaining more prevalence with younger consumers and a changing generation. “It’s more important than ever that businesses stand for something, whether it’s a mission or they contribute or the community,” he says. “People want to eat at restaurants that are mission driven. And with the labor shortage, guess what? People want to work at restaurants that are mission driven and supporting the community.”
“It’s s just this beautiful space in the middle,” Cook adds, “where what goes around comes around. We didn’t start this company thinking, well, fundraisers are going to be profitable and grow restaurants. It was because it felt like the right way of connecting restaurants to the community. It was only after the fact that we started realizing, what do you know, it actually does have some pretty significant financial benefits.”