How retailers found purpose through pandemic partnerships with charities

I’ve often written about charities and retailers working in partnership, highlighting retailers’ ability to support causes and communities in a myriad of ways over and above cash donations. These include long-term strategic partnerships, cause-related marketing, employee fundraising and through providing access to their operational infrastructures, social media channels and customers as prospective supporters.

In this blog, I’m providing a round-up of how various retailers have responded to the challenge presented by Covid-19 with significant cash donations (if only these could be gift-aided!), repurposing operations, strengthening relationships with food banks, and offering special deals to NHS workers and reserved hours for vulnerable groups.

I’ll be updating this blog as other initiatives hit my radar.



Business as unusual fuels creative solutions

In a novel twist of repurposing people, Morrisons is enlisting the support of 500 charity shop workers from Marie Curie and CLIC Sargent, to help frailer older people and other vulnerable customers in its stores. The supermarket will be paying their wages for 12 weeks.
On the other shoe, Kurt Geiger is paying all shop staff so they can volunteer time for Age UK and other causes.

Focus on food banks, older people and other high-risk groups

Each of B&Ms’ 670 stores has been authorised to provide a local food bank with a £1,500 donation, so they can buy essential groceries, cleaning goods and toiletries. Each food bank needs to be a registered charity and one food bank per store is eligible.

M&S and Lidl have both given £100,000 to Neighbourly, a B Corporation which connects businesses with charities. In addition, M&S also donated £100,000 to the National Emergencies Trust Coronavirus Appeal. Lidl’s worked with Neighbourly since 2017, and has already donated 5 million meals through its Feed it Back scheme. Holders of an M&S Sparks card can also make further donations each time they shop, by choosing Neighbourly as their preferred choice.

Asda is donating £5 million to food charities FareShare and The Trussell Trust to help them support the most vulnerable people. It’s also investing in the logistics and support services that will allow both charities to support families through the crisis, including funding for telephone and online referrals, and food parcel delivering systems for people unable to afford food. It addition, it’s supporting the recruitment of 20,000 volunteers for food banks in their networks.

The funding will also continue the work of the Fight Hunger Create Change partnership between Asda and the two charities, which is helping tackle the root causes of poverty by providing 800,000 people with access to debt and financial advice over the next year.

John Lewis has launched a £1m Community Support Fund that will be available to communities across the UK. In addition, immediate donations of £75,000 have been given to Age UK, FareShare, the Trussell Trust, GroceryAid and RetailTrust.

Aldi took to Facebook and Twitter to announce that it was making a £250k donation to Age UK, as a way to support vulnerable customers in its communities. It’s also donated an extra £100,000 to long-term partner, Teenage Cancer Trust.

Co-op has pledged to donate £1.5m of food to FareShare, that will be shared amongst its regional centres across the UK.

On top of re-purposing charity shop staff, Morrisons went a step further and announced it would be providing £10m to food banks, as well as lifting restrictions and reopening cafes as depots to encourage customers to make donations.

Iceland has donated £150k Age UK’s Coronavirus Emergency Appeal Richard Walker, managing director tweeted: “We’re encouraging other businesses to support @age_uk in reaching its £10m target.”

Tesco had clearly been taking its time to decide what action to take, and its CEO, Dave King, finally wrote to customers to outline a phenomenal £30 million package of support, building on the £70 million of help it delivered to causes in 2019.

The letter points out that:


There’s gold in them thar loyalty and gift cards

Co-op CEO Steve Murrells is directing his own personal income to kick-start a Co-op Members Fund, which will be channelled into food banks, a funeral hardship fund and front-line community causes.

The boss of the £10bn turnover business is donating 20 per cent of his salary over a three month period into the newly created Co-op Members’ Coronavirus Fund. The fund has been established so that the Co-op’s 4.6 million members can donate their unspent existing member rewards, totalling over £30m, into these vital areas.

Murrells said: “Millions of people are suffering financial hardship at the moment and so it felt right for me to offer to take this pay cut and directly support causes which are very important to me and close to my heart.

“One per cent of what our members spend already goes to local causes and now if they wish they can donate their 5 per cent personal rewards to help lessen the impact the emergency is having on millions of our fellow citizens.”

I was particularly pleased to see Co-op launch this initiative, as I’ve long thought funds sitting on loyalty cards and gift cards present a huge opportunity for micro-donations. The technology’s there, so retailers and their card partners simply have to find the will.

Soliciting supermarket support through social media

Keen to ensure supermarkets catered for the needs of specific vulnerable groups, Kate Lee, incoming CEO at Alzheimer’s Society, tweeted the main grocers to remind them that people with dementia needed their support, as many were struggling.

Thanking charities, colleagues and customers


Many retailers have used social media and email to help boost morale, creating a sense of togetherness by praising colleagues, charity partners and customers for all their efforts.


There is help for smaller, local groups

Whilst the focus of support from retailers is on helping larger, national causes, Kate Carroll, head of Nisa’s charity MADL, took to Twitter to remind smaller, local charities, of its long-running scheme. Its funds are partly generated from a percentage of sales of own-label, and, more recently, Co-op label products.

As nipping to a Nisa might be more preferable to venturing out to out-of-town mega-stores during the national lock-down, one would expect funds raised through such purchases to increase. On the downside, as people dash from cash due to hygiene concerns, I’d expect income generated by its lovely new collecting tins to fall.


Corner shops against Coronavirus

Perhaps the most touching retail tale surrounding this pandemic is the story of Asiyah and Jawad Javed, owners of a small corner shop in Stenhousemuir. They put together 500 bags containing face-masks, antibacterial hand gel and cleaning wipes, and gave them away for free to people over age of 65.

“On Saturday I was out, and I met an old woman, she was crying because she had been to the supermarket and there was no hand wash,” Ms Javed said.

Dedicated shopping hours – nice idea, but there’s a downside

Sainsbury’s is among many retailers that have launched reserved shopping slots for people at high risk and NHS workers, though some reports suggest early bird shoppers have been met by empty shelves and crowded aisles, due to replenishment failings and stock-pilers. Whilst I commend the sentiment behind such moves, many vulnerable people have been advised to stay at home for 12 weeks, meaning friends, neighbours and volunteer groups will ultimately need to help and organise their shopping for them.

Pennies makes an online plea

Mindful of the national lock-down forcing many retailers to focus operations online in response to coronavirus, Pennies, “the digital upgrade of the traditional charity box”, has sprung into action. It’s asking retailers to add Pennies to their checkout, thus giving customers the option to add a few pennies to their online purchase for charity. It suggests that companies might want to consider choosing to support funds set up in direct response to the virus, like the Coronavirus Appeal run by the National Emergencies Trust and British Red Cross.

Government helps supermarkets target deliveries to vulnerable shoppers

“Supermarkets are being given access to a government database to help prioritise food deliveries for elderly and vulnerable shoppers who have been ordered to stay at home under the government’s coronavirus crackdown, wrote Sarah Butler, a journalist at The Guardian specialising in retail and ethical business.

“With all the major grocers’ online delivery slots booked up weeks in advance, getting food to those self-isolating was top priority in a call between industry bosses and the environment secretary, George Eustice, on Tuesday.”, she continued.

When online goes off the rails

Even before the Government announced stricter social distancing measures, online delivery had the opportunity to help save the day and reduce the need for people to go out. However, I am sure many looking to stuff their bunkers soon lost patience at being 8733rd in the queue and dashed out to see what they could get at their nearest bricks and mortar stores. Problem is, as well as CSR heroes, as more and more people were forced to visit the supermarkets, the ensuing chaos may cause them to become super-spreaders. Only time will tell.

Still, despite struggling to meet unprecedented online demand, Ocado and the Ocado Foundation did their bit, announcing how they’d deliver £750k of funding to food charities.


Providing light relief through repurposed-a-thons

Sainsbury’s has pledged to match all customer donations made to Comic Relief and BBC Children in Need in-store and online between 9th April and 1st May 2020, as part of wider campaign to help those in need as a result of Covid-19.

Customers will be able to donate at tills in-store by rounding up their bill to £1, £5, £10 or £15 on manned checkouts or by adding £1, £2, £5 or £10 donations to their basket on self-service checkouts. Those shopping for groceries online or on its Habitat site can donate by adding a donation of £1, £2, £5 or £10 to their online delivery basket before checking out. Alternatively, customers can donate online at by following the links to The Big Night In or by giving their Nectar card points through the Nectar app or website to the value of £2.50, £5 or £10.

Established partnership bolts-on new kid on the block NHS Charities Together

Just in time for the warmer June weather, Aldi has launched a special-edition rainbow ice cream with all profits, equivalent to 50p per tub sold, to be split between NHS Charities Together and long-term partner Teenage Cancer Trust. In May, the discounter launched a limited-edition bunch of Rainbow Tulips to mark International Nurses Day, again splitting profits between NHS Charities Together and ongoing partner Teenage Cancer Trust.

P-P-Penguins never had it so good since John Lewis’ Monty

Having adopted all the penguins at Chester Zoo,  Iceland has announced that all profits from sales of Penguin chocolate bars will also go to help keep the zoo going through the pandemic.

NHS Charities Together gets a foot in re-opening doors

To help meet its target of raising £1,000,000 for NHS Charities Together Kurt Geiger has pledged to donate the first month of post-lockdown profits to the charity.


Get social purpose right, or social media will shape it for you

Of course, people expect retailers to act responsibly, even at the best of times, and soon call them out on social media if they’re caught behaving badly.


But customers must act responsibly too

Though this crisis has brought out the best in many people, a focus on self-preservation has come to the fore for some. Scenes at many stores of people grappling over toilet paper and pasta reminded me of tyrannical seagulls dive-bombing for chips on Torquay’s pier. 

So do put that extra bog roll down, won’t you? We have everything to loos.

John Thompson is a fundraising consultant at Changing Business.