Columbus Food League has systemic charitable giving program

We all know and love them: Betty’s Fine Food & Spirits, Tip Top Kitchen & Cocktails, Surly Girl Saloon, Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace, and The Jury Room. Known collectively as Betty’s Family of Restaurants, this group now has new back-end support from the Columbus Food League.

CFL is a formal structured entity, referred to as a professional employment organization, that gives each restaurant the additional support they need while streamlining the necessary back-end of the restaurant business. Some of the services provided include human resources, improved benefits, operational support, and a new charitable giving program between all the restaurants.

“Basically it means we have all the employees under one umbrella,” says Amy Brennick, CEO of CFL. “We will have much better options for benefits. Independent restaurants don’t have the same infrastructure, systems and processes that chains do, and chains have a better chance of survival. The independent restaurants can keep their same brand, but we can offer them the same reporting and share best practices.”

This new structure has allowed them to overhaul their charitable giving program. Previously, the restaurants would send gift cards to organizations and groups requesting donations.

Over the years, the system became cumbersome. Occasionally, each restaurant would receive the same request from an organization. Employees were unable to engage or interact with the organizations being supported.

Also, the program was creating a lot of work for the office. An intern had to be brought on just to handle the number of requests, which were numbering 30 to 50 per month. Additionally, since most gift certificates were being used, the restaurants had to limit the number they provided each month.

“We were getting triple asks and different restaurants were all giving one gift certificate,” Brennick says. “So we were accidentally all giving gift certificates to one group and would have to deny another group because we had no more money to give out.”

After evaluating the existing program, it was obvious changes had to be made. The new program had to involve staff and allow the opportunity to work with organizations favored by the staff and general managers. CFL decided to use Columbus AIDS Taskforce’s “A Reason to Dine” event as a model for its new program. Having previously participated in the event, CFL appreciated the execution and involvement it created.

Thus Community Partner Days was created. This new program gives the restaurants and employees a chance to establish long-term partnerships, increases giving, and provides the opportunity to choose which organizations they wish to support.

Each restaurant has one community day per month, which allows CFL to provide 60 opportunities per year to give back to local organizations. The partner receives ten percent of the food sales for the selected day.

CFL connects the organizations to each restaurant. They have nine categories to help provide focus and allow them to create balance in the number and types of organizations they support. CFL focuses on partners who are small, local, Columbus-focused organizations. Each organization is selected by the restaurant that wishes to partner with them.

“It allows us to put organizations in categories based on where their impact is and try to have a more even distribution of who we work with,” says Tracey Armitage, internal marketing specialist for CFL.

Each restaurant suggests organizations with whom they want to work and CFL reaches out to each organization to gauge interest. Selected organizations provide CFL with its logo and written information to be used on table tents created by CFL to advertise the Community Partner day. It’s the responsibility of the organization to handle the marketing for their Community Partner Day.

The general manager of the partner restaurant contacts the organization one week prior to the Community Partner Day to finalize details and confirm information. Each location establishes its own protocols for the day, such as whether representatives can have a table for information, walk around the restaurant to talk with customers or other additional ideas and opportunities.

Two days after the Community Partner Day, the general manager will provide CFL with a sales report. The sales information and a questionnaire are sent to the organization, which is followed by a check.

The program is still being tweaked. CFL is keeping employees and general managers involved by asking for their feedback. They have also used interns to provide expertise from outside the industry, which helps fine-tune the program.

The average donation has been between $300 and $350, which depends heavily on how much promotion the organization does for their day. So far, the most money was raised at Dirty Frank’s: $291 in sales and an additional $265 from a tip jar the organization made available.

“It’s really nice knowing you’re making a bigger impact,” Armitage says.

To date, community partners have included Friends of the Zoo at Tip Top Kitchen, Urban Arts Space at Betty’s, NARAL Pro-Choice at Surly Girl, and YWCA at Dirty Franks.

When asked what  advice they would give other businesses, Brennick stressed the importance of staffing people who are involved and care because that helps strengthen your brand. She also suggested helping your employees do what they are already doing.

Those interested in this specific model for their organization are encouraged to contact CFL.

Upcoming Community Partner Days:
Juvenile Diabetes Fund at Betty’s on Sept. 12
Planned Parenthood Peer Education Program at Dirty Frank’s on Sept. 20

Philanthropic Pursuit is a monthly feature on The Metropreneur, powered by Community Shares of Mid OhioIs your business giving back to the community or partnering with a local nonprofit in a unique way? We want to hear about it. Contact Ryan Kovalaske at [email protected].