Storefront Philanthropy

Storefronts can be for more than just peddling wares - they can also serve as a vehicle for promoting the greater good. Although selling products associated with a cause has become mainstream, there are a small number of retailers going beyond the shelf and creating new models for pairing business and philanthropy.

Seattle-based department store Nordstrom caused a flurry of chatter when it signed a lease for a prime NYC location. But the venerable chain isn’t moving into a new flagship location. Instead, Nordstrom will be opening a nonprofit subsidiary that will be branded separately from the well-known retailer. Though the details are still in the works, a Nordstrom spokesperson confirmed “all [store] profits will go to nonprofit organizations.” Perhaps Nordstrom is in search of philanthropic success like that of Geoffrey Beene, the legendary men’s retailer, which donates 100 percent of net profits to nonprofit organizations, raising $145 million for various charities to-date.

In May 2010, Panera opened a pilot nonprofit restaurant driven by the motto, “Take what you need. Pay your fair share.” That’s right – at Panera Cares Cafés, you name your own price. Using the company’s existing distribution system, the goal is to feed community members who can’t afford food for low/no charge with overhead costs, such as rent, staff salaries and food costs, covered by generous patrons who pay full price or above for their meals. Given the success of the first Panera Cares Café in St. Louis, the restaurant is poised to open a number of nonprofit locations around the country.

While each of these retailers is taking a different approach, all are leading the way in creating an entirely new model of philanthropy and cause marketing. These models may seem to contradict the spirit of capitalism, but in actuality are quite progressive, as the role of business in society evolves to one of true citizenship. Only time will tell if these new approaches will serve as viable strategies and help transform retail giving in the future. For now, we commend the innovation of these retailers to align storefronts and giving back.


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