Creatively corporate

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Christmas partnerships engage businesses in the mission of The Salvation Army.

By Christin Davis – 

A workplace Barbie, oversized pens and a wall full of giant Post-Its covered in project details and ideas adorn the office of the The Salvation Army Western Territory’s corporate relations manager in Long Beach, Calif., evidence of a creative energy brought to development.

Maria Todaro counts the corporate Barbie as a symbol of success as she works at her desk overlooking the city toward the Vincent Thomas Bridge. It was a gift from Mattel following a meeting that has developed into a partnership this Christmas.

“The executive director of the Mattel Children’s Foundation took us to the corporate headquarters toy shop to pick out a toy at the end of our meeting,” Todaro said. “He told me to wait a minute, then came out of the Barbie section straight-faced and said, ‘How about this one?’ She had the same hair color as me, so she is forever corporate relations Barbie.”

As the country’s first territorial corporate relations manager, Todaro was hired by the Western Territory Community Relations and Development Department in October 2014 to proactively engage large corporations in the effort to do good.

“It’s not simply fundraising,” Todaro said. “There are funds to be had, and I have an annual goal, but there is also a marketing and awareness return when you are partnering with a big company with promotional channels. It’s a whole other vehicle to get awareness of Salvation Army programs out there to individuals who might also support us.”

And it’s worth pursuing. Last year, corporations gave $17.8 billion, a nearly 14 percent increase from 2013, according to the National Philanthropic Trust.

“Despite the fact that The Salvation Army remains one of America’s most favored charities with the general public and is documented to be a top nonprofit power brand, we have under-engaged historically in regard to strategic corporate partnerships,” said Chaz Watson, the West’s executive director of development. “Maria has been steadfastly building an infrastructure that will make it easier to collaborate with divisions to pursue new cause marketing partnerships and funding initiatives that can focus locally or scale across a corporation’s trans-divisional footprint.  We are poised for some exciting breakthroughs and it’s encouraging to already see this coming to fruition with some early wins, particularly as it relates to point of sale donation initiatives.”

Todaro, who holds a master’s in nonprofit leadership and management from the University of San Diego, is perfectly poised to connect with corporate representatives. She spent more than eight years overseeing aspects of the San Diego Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center’s marketing, public relations and development. She oversaw events and partnerships there, notably including a “Get Fit and Thrive” initiative with Kaiser Permanente, CBS Radio and Ralph’s to promote a healthy lifestyle.

“I reached a point of wanting to grow in my career, and I saw myself writing, consulting and teaching,” Todaro said. “This role incorporates all of those things in a way that I couldn’t put my finger on before.”

Now, a year into her efforts, the Western Territory is set to benefit from three initiatives during this year’s Red Kettle Christmas Campaign.

At least 45 retail stores between Paq Inc. (Food 4 Less & Rancho San Miguel Markets) and Brewer Oil Company signed on to a point of sale campaign, “Give a Little, Change a Lot,” which offers mix-and-match in-store promotional components with creative flair. A conveyor belt sticker and floor sticker says “Make change here,” and paper pin-up cards shaped as the Red Shield have five different tag lines to also spread awareness about the Army’s work in the community, from helping someone who was hungry to giving someone hope.

The territory is piloting Dip Jar in 50 varied retail locations, enabling cashless generosity via tip jars that allow a shopper to dip his or her credit card to donate a preset amount while checking out—generally $2.

Mattel, Inc., will feature seven Angel Trees in its El Segundo, Calif., headquarters and in a number of its stores. Decorated with paper angel tags with a first name, age and gender of a child in need in the local community, The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program provides thousands of children with presents on Christmas each year—all shopped for by anyone who takes a tag.

Todaro developed co-branded tags for Mattel stores as the company will ask its customers to take a tag and purchase an extra toy to support the program this year. In addition, it is offering a 25 percent discount code for Angel Tree donors to use online and a bulk discount to The Salvation Army for toy purchases.

“This position allows me to work with divisions to coordinate partnership opportunities that involve collaboration among multiple divisions,” Todaro said. “This allows the Army to come to the table and offer partnerships that match a corporation’s geographic interests regardless of our own internal boundaries.”

Beyond Christmas, Todaro will continue to provide resources to the divisions that equip corporations to become proactive disaster partners allowing for immediate activation in the event of an emergency, on a new corporate partnership dedicated website that will feature touch points for the West’s potential partners, and a strategic marketing plan to increase corporate matching gifts.

As Watson said, “This is an important front for us to advance cause-specific funding for The Salvation Army’s mission and is a way to engage with influencers who might otherwise not cross paths with us. The possibilities are tremendous.”

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