Tom’s of Maine: 50 States of Change


Rob Robinson helping clean-up Mtn. Agamenticus in York, Maine at Tom's of Maine Mission Day, July 2009.

Tom’s of Maine is one of those companies that’s a shining example of social responsibility done right. It’s never been about flavor-of-the-month cause marketing or flashy ad campaigns or even gimmicky product extensions like bubble-gum flavored toothpaste. It’s always been about quality products, customer service and a core mission to giving back. And they are extending that commitment through a community-driven cause marketing initiative that gives their customers an opportunity to directly help their favorite charity. Tom’s is putting up $100,000 to be evenly distributed to 5 charities across the 50 states, submitted and voted on by customers.

I particularly like this campaign because it gives exposure to not just one random company-selected charity, but hundreds of worthy organizations where the submitting users have a deep, personal connection to the cause. It also helps build the local community by giving customers relevant causes to support right in their own backyard. And with a universe of users logging on to vote, they’re also getting exposed to a world of charities in need, so Tom’s of Maine becomes the benefactor of raising consciousness overall. Even the charities who aren’t awarded the $20K grant will still receive valuable exposure among consumers through visibility on the website during the voting process. It all seems too good to be true. Where’s the catch? So, being the cause marketing sleuth that I am, I reached out to Tom’s of Maine to determine if this campaign is really as good as it seems, and my conversation with Rob Robinson, Director of Common Goods Partnerships proved that it is as authentic as it is aspirational. And 100% catch-free.

Your role with Tom’s of Maine is in Common Good Partnerships. Can you share a little more of what that entails and how it ties in with your CSR and cause marketing activities?

For nearly 40 years, Tom’s of Maine has operated under the belief that a company can be financially successful while behaving in a socially responsible and environmentally sensitive manner. These values are at the heart of every decision we make. Our common good partnerships were born out of our long-standing passion for community involvement and the belief that small differences in a community can make a large difference in the world. For example, since we were founded, we’ve maintained a steadfast commitment to donate 10% of our profits to charity. My role is to evaluate, oversee and communicate these efforts to our consumers.

50 States For Good” is a current campaign you’re running to help get exposure for non-profits across the country, and identify unique programs that Tom’s of Maine could support. How does the program work?

Whether it’s the non-profits we’ve partnered with or the community efforts our employees support through their own volunteerism, we are keenly aware of many great projects around the country. This year we decided to open up our funding process to the broader community and have a public vote to direct $100,000 toward projects that help us take care of each other and the world we share. “50 States for Good” celebrates and rewards those efforts focused on lasting, positive change. Specifically, we’re looking for applications for community involvement projects from nonprofit organizations and we’re making it easy for all qualifying 501(c)(3) organizations to apply. Many organizations have overloaded staffs in this economic downturn, as well decreased funding and donations, so we’re asking only ten questions and online voting by the public will determine which five projects will receive $20,000 each.

What has been the response so far?

We’ve seen a tremendous response from nearly all 50 States. In fact, we’ve seen over 10,000 downloads of the application. The application phase is open through August 30th.

How are you vetting the non-profits submitted to ensure that that they are reputable organizations and worthy charities?

We do have criteria in place such as achievability and positive impact that will help in the vetting process. A judging panel, which includes some of the country’s most influential non-profit and good news advocates, will narrow down the applications to 50 and then we turn it over to the public to make the ultimate decision via online voting.

Which states are currently represented? Have you noticed that certain states have considerably more submissions than others? If so, which ones?

Currently, we have 43 states represented and are confident that Alaska, Idaho, the Dakotas, New Mexico, West Virginia and Wyoming will come through by August 30. The states with the most applications submitted are California, Florida, New York, Illinois and Georgia.

How are you making consumers aware of this initiative?

We’ve reached out to large and small non-profits with whom we’ve worked in the past and relied on word-of-mouth and traditional and online media outreach to help spread the word.

Will there be a transactional tie-in to the promotion where proceeds of sales also benefit these organizations? Or, some additional way that consumers can make a direct contribution through the purchase of Tom’s of Maine products?

Many of our common good partnerships such as Dental Health for All do have a transactional tie-in and next year I hope we can expand this initiative to include that as an additional element.

After the winners are announced, and you have awarded the $100,000 funding, do you plan to communicate the impact that those dollars made back to participating voters and customers?

Absolutely. We know that consumers want to see the execution and results of the projects they choose and we will profile the winners on our web site. For this initiative, others in the past and even product inquiries, seeking input and having a dialogue (and closing the loop) is an important component of how we communicate with consumers. For example, we take pride in having a rapid and personal response to every consumer inquiry.

What other cause marketing initiatives has Tom’s of Maine implemented?

There have been many initiatives over the years that we’ve implemented including partnerships and sponsorships with dozens of public dental health clinics across the country, American Rivers, River Network, Living Lands and Waters, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Program as well as The Nature Conservancy. Each year we look at how we can best partner with our consumers, vendors and community groups to help improve the planet and each of our communities. This is the first time we’re looking to the public to make that decision, which is why we’re so excited about the “50 States for Good” initiative.

Where have you seen the greatest success in linking your customers to causes?

Our greatest success in making the link is when someone is buying our product, our consumers know that along with them we’re always trying to have a positive impact in communities. We partner with stores nationally to convey important information to consumers. We work with them to develop the right floorstands, displays, and messaging and we train them so they can help consumers make decisions and more learn about the values of Tom’s of Maine and how those values drive all of the work we do.

Gennefer Gross is a writer, producer and co-founder of Gross Factor Productions, an independent film and television company focused on scripted comedy. An avid writer, author and idea cultivator, Gennefer thrives on creativity and contributes regularly to Triple Pundit on a variety of sustainable business topics. She also pens the popular series Hollywood & Green, exploring socially responsible cinema that helps connect consumers with important causes and environmental issues. And somehow she finds the time to write for her own blog, Tasty Beautiful, covering food and fashion in and around Los Angeles. Gennefer will also be launching Philanthrofoodie(TM), a charitable venture designed to spark social change through shared food experiences. An eternal student of life with an eclectic background, Gennefer brings unique insights on everything from breakthroughs in renewable energy to the latest dish in celebrity consciousness.

8 responses

  1. Gennefer, I really appreciate this interview. I write about companies with integrated social missions, and Tom’s of Maine is a pioneer in this area, as you mention. Crowd-sourcing these donations and selection of recipients is a super way to engage consumers, nonprofits and employees.

  2. Pingback: CSR Spotlight: 50 States for Good | TakePart Social Action Network™

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