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Focused fundraising

How Topper’s Pizza got strategic with its charitable efforts


April 25, 2014
By Mark Wessel

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Since Topper’s Pizza  was established in 1982, the company has done what it can to give back to the community

Since Topper’s Pizza  was established in 1982, the company has done what it can to give back to the community, from sponsoring sports team sponsorships, to running school programs to helping raise funds for charitable causes. But like a lot of pizzerias and retail organizations, the company’s efforts tended to be localized, initiated by a manager or staff member or in response to direct requests from a specific charity or cause. Recognition for these efforts often remained local as well, through either word of mouth or local media exposure.

What the company lacked was an overarching corporate social responsibility (CSR) program and a specific charity of choice that each one of its 35 pizzerias could rally behind. That changed in 2011, when brothers Kelly and Keith Toppazzini, chairman and president respectively, decided to embark on a CSR program that would ultimately lead to the decision to make SickKids Foundation the charity of choice for Topper’s Pizza.

This decision wasn’t an easy one. Several charities and causes were taken into consideration. From a shortlisted of group candidates, Topper’s conducted research, made calls and held  face-to-face meetings to make the final choice.

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“Kelly and I have always championed children’s health and what won us over with SickKids Hospital is that it’s one of the foremost pediatric centres in the world,” observes Keith. “Their impact is far-reaching; it’s not just kids in the GTA, but kids from across Ontario, Canada and from around the world who go there for treatment.”

Keith’s comments underscore two key considerations for organizations embarking on a CSR program. The first pertains to whether or not there is a genuine synergy between the corporate culture of the company and the cause itself. In Topper’s case, the company has never forsaken its roots as a family-oriented operation that cares about kids. What’s more, the company’s customer base remains families with kids in primary and high school.

The second key consideration was to find a cause that all Topper’s Pizza communities could support. The fact that SickKids regularly treats patients from almost every Topper’s community throughout Ontario and is a member of the North America-wide Children’s Miracle Network gave it added weight in the decision-making process.

Once the choice was made to support SickKids, the next step in the CSR process was to come up with a plan to determine which of the hospital’s programs or services to support. Consistent with the mindset of having all of the pizzerias pull together in support of a common cause was the notion of zeroing in on a specific, tangible area on which the company could focus its fundraising efforts for maximum impact. Focusing would also enable them to draw a direct correlation between the company’s efforts and the difference those efforts were making when it came time to tell the rest of the world about their support of the cause via the media, social media or simply word of mouth.

It just so happened that in early 2012, at the time Topper’s was going through this process, SickKids was in the midst of launching an entirely new Healthy and Happy campaign in support of a range of children’s health issues. Seeing the opportunity to make a difference from the outset, Topper’s became the program’s first corporate partner. During the month of May, Topper’s Pizza raised funds through a combination of selling Do the Happy paper icons for $2, offering a Mother’s Day Value Meal with $2 from each sale going to the cause, and providing online customers with an opportunity to make a direct contribution through the Topper’s website. Surprisingly, even though Topper’s got on board with this program with little lead time, the company emerged as the top Healthy and Happy corporate fundraiser.

Despite the fact that Topper’s emerged as the top corporate fundraiser, the company did a post-program analysis and chose not to rest on its laurels. The company’s executive team took a critical eye to what could be done in Year 2 to build on their success. Keith recalls that one of the  challenges was the lingering perception – particularly amongst some of the company’s northern pizzerias – that the SickKids Foundation was a Toronto or southern Ontario charity.

“We realized there was an education process that had to happen to make all of our locations and their employees aware of the impact SickKids is having on kids’ lives.”

To address these perceptions the company embarked on an internal education program that included inviting SickKids spokesperson Wendy Dempsey to the company’s annual conference.

The “Toronto hospital” tag is a challenge, says Dempsey.  “People don’t realize we’re providing highly specialized treatment for kids from across the country and overseas. Or that we’re the only hospital in Canada that does bone marrow transplants for kids and we have a cardiac centre doing some procedures that aren’t done anywhere else in the world.”

 Dempsey’s visit proved to be a resounding success in terms of bringing the Topper’s organization up to speed with the far-reaching impact SickKids is having on childrens’ lives and this translated into a heightened appreciation for the cause that trickled down to the employee level.

Sharron Fry, senior marketing manager, worked closely with Dempsey to on creating a new and improved fundraising promotion before embarking on the 2013 Healthy and Happy campaign. They extended the length of time to fundraise, gave in-depth employee education and goals prior to launch, and provided another customer value combo they called The Hat Trick, which consisted of a large three-topping pizza, Topper Sticks and chicken wings for $26.95, with $2 from each order going to the campaign. This time around customers were not only helping a great cause but also being offered a great deal. The second time around, advance public relations, and online, print and digital support provided a compelling reminder of the fundraising initiative.

With a motivated, better involved team and a more focused, strategic fundraising initiative, Topper’s once again emerged as the top corporate fundraiser for Healthy and Happy campaign, effectively doubling the money raised the prior year.

Topper’s went one step further by participating in SickKids’ annual Radiothon, a day-long fundraising drive on Newstalk 1010 whereby they matched the contributions of station listeners up to $30,000, for a total contribution of $60,000. To create urgency and to make the donation more tangible, listeners were told the funds would go toward the purchase of a PCR machine. PCR machines detect early signs of cancer, a strategy that, in turn, can give medical staff an earlier start on diagnosing and come up with up ways to help kids fight the disease. During a one-hour segment sponsored by Topper’s, callers came through, meeting a $30,000 target that was matched by the company. The PCR machine has since been purchased and the equipment delivered to the hospital in April 2014.

In less than two years, Topper’s Pizza has transitioned from having no charity of choice whatsoever to becoming a champion of SickKids, embarking on an awareness campaign for staff and customers alike and adopting several strategies designed to raise more money.

Topper’s continues to help local charities, but the company is also now highly focused on making a corporate-wide difference when it comes to giving back to the community.


Mark Wessel manages Bullpen PR’s corporate social responsibility practice. He may be reached at mwessel@bullpenpr.com.