Giant Eagle: a Scorecard for Giving

Giant Eagle is all for giving, but it felt things were getting a bit out of hand.So it developed scorecards to evaluate the money going out and the return on investment coming back in."The company determined a couple of years ago that we needed to streamline the process of how we make decisions on whom we give to and how much we give," Tina Thomson, the chain's marketing manager

PITTSBURGH — Giant Eagle here is all for giving, but it felt things were getting a bit out of hand.

So it developed scorecards to evaluate the money going out and the return on investment coming back in.

"The company determined a couple of years ago that we needed to streamline the process of how we make decisions on whom we give to and how much we give," Tina Thomson, the chain's marketing manager for community relations, told SN.

"We felt we needed to understand why we made the investments we did and to be more strategic in how we spent the money so we could leverage those investments better and make sure we could have the impact we wanted."

The first step was to organize its community gift-giving efforts, which the company discovered fell into four distinct categories: hunger, community, family wellness and education.

"Looking at what we were already doing, we realized those four categories fit the way we do business," Thomson explained. "Obviously, hunger ties in more with our business, but all four groups are equally important."

According to Rob Borella, director of corporate communications and community relations, "We wanted to put more structure around our community relations efforts and develop a group of core causes that our organization supports.

"As we get the word out about our four core values, we're getting more good proposals. The challenge now is to become more sophisticated in how we allocate resources. That's why we've had to create some objective measures by which to judge requests."

The primary measure when a request is received is a scorecard that lists 12 criteria for evaluating potential community relationships, with a top end-weighted score of 75 and a low score of 40 that determines whether the company wants to get involved and at what level of investment, Thomson explained.

"The scorecard gives us a fair way to assess requests," she said, with groups at the high end getting full support and those closer to the minimum level getting a less significant amount.

Among the criteria, she said, are whether the cause is relevant to one of the four focus categories; whether it reaches regional or target customers; whether it complements existing initiatives without overlapping them; whether it encourages or recognizes employee involvement and volunteerism; and whether it demonstrates Giant Eagle's commitment to hunger, community, family wellness or education.

On the other end of the spectrum is assessing the return Giant Eagle receives for each donation, Borella said. "With such a sizeable investment, we felt the need to determine what type of return we're getting for our investments and how we measure that," he noted.

According to Thomson, Giant Eagle is on the cusp of implementing a ROI evaluation process to accumulate information to determine if the company will participate in the same event again or at a similar investment.

"We have all the criteria put together, and we're just beginning to test those criteria against some of the initiatives with which we're involved," she explained — to determine, for example, whether the event demonstrated the company's focus on one of the four core focus areas; whether it resulted in media coverage; whether it required or utilized employee involvement and volunteerism; whether it drove customers to Giant Eagle stores; and how many people participated in or were impacted by the event.

"It's a weighted scale that assigns up to 10 points for each initiative," Borella explained, "which allows us to assess each one — for example, if we realize $250,000 in a media spend to get two million impressions, that might get a higher rating than if 300 people attend an event vs. the 350 expected."

Thomson said Giant Eagle began developing the ROI assessment about six months ago, "and it's only in the last few weeks that we've begun implementing it," she said.

The company has also recently begun conducting focus groups to see what customers think of the Giant Eagle brand, Borella said —"if they associate us with goodwill in the community and if they understand what we're trying to do," he explained.

The company hopes to be able to publish a report based on its pre- and post-investment evaluations over the next few months, Thomson added. "That would be available to everyone who requests the information, to give an overview of all the high-level initiatives we support, and also to outline our submissions policy for [vendor] partners that want support."

According to Borella, Giant Eagle continues to get 60 to 100 proposals for donations every week "because we have a reputation for giving to just about anyone who asks us.

"We found we were doing a little of everything because we didn't know how to say 'no' or 'no, but' to some causes. So we opted to be more strategic and to communicate that to all the charitable organizations out there, to let them know how and when to approach Giant Eagle.

"Over the longer term, we will probably become more focused on supporting organizations more directly tied to our core community relations values. But at this point, although we haven't stopped funding some organizations, our hope is that as we communicate our core values, perhaps we'll get fewer proposals from groups that aren't an ideal fit — the Independent Filmmakers Association, for example," Borella said.

Asked how much money Giant Eagle donates each year, Borella said the company isn't able to quantify the amount. "We're trying to determine that dollar figure internally, but it's a real challenge," he explained.

"For example, how do you assign a dollar value to an employee's time, talent and expertise at an event we sponsor? Or when we donate millions of pounds of food, how do we evaluate the value of that kind of donation?

"If it's a community-related event where we're making an investment in a hometown team, certain media or promotional investments are involved. But because it's support of one hometown institution by another, it becomes hard to assign a dollar value.

"There are also funds we donate through the Giant Eagle Foundation, which is funded by our founding families and doesn't have to report specific spending amounts. That's millions of dollars more that may or may not be coordinated with what we do.

"So our best estimate is that we donate millions of dollars a year to various groups."

The closest Borella would come to being more specific was to say the millions run into double digits.