Restaurant Owner’s Philanthropy Proves a Win for All Involved

Bob Perrry: We’ve made a commitment to this type of philanthropy
November 26, 2012 — The Elephant Walk restaurant in Waltham has crafted a sustainable giving program that is helping nonprofits raise funds without incurring costs and, equally important, enabling the restaurant to make an ongoing commitment to them.

Here’s how it works.

Every month, The Elephant Walk gives three percent of its revenue to a specific nonprofit. Leading up to and during that month the nonprofit promotes the affiliation as much as it wants, to help drive patrons to the restaurant. The restaurant promotes the nonprofit-of-the-month with notices posted on its walls and menu, and through Twitter and Facebook.

Nonprofit beneficiaries, as restaurant owner Bob Perry refers to them, can receive up to $3,000 from a monthly promotion.

Each quarter, the restaurant changes the focus on nonprofits. Winter highlights those fighting homelessness, spring is reserved for organizations improving education, summer spotlights those seeking civic engagement, and fall is reserved for nonprofits battling hunger.

Project Bread, the state’s leading anti-hunger organization, based in East Boston, is November’s beneficiary, the fourth time the nonprofit has teamed with The Elephant Walk.

Other nonprofits that participate include City Year, Future Chefs, More Than Words, Pine Street Inn, Schools on Wheels Massachusetts, and Waltham Fields Community Farm.

“We’ve made a commitment to this type of philanthropy,” said Perry, who identifies the restaurant as 'A Benefit Restaurant’ with a mission to end poverty.

“It’s important to me that it’s no-load funding,” he said. “Nonprofits get checks from us without having to spend a penny. Fundraising can be expensive and nonprofits may use Twitter and Facebook, or include us in an email blast that they’re sending out anyway.”

Part of Perry’s commitment is promoting the nonprofit beneficiaries year after year: “For a nonprofit to be committed to us, they have to know we’re committed to them.”

Promoting different nonprofits also works for Perry, because instead of one organization promoting the restaurant throughout the year, 12 do it. And since each promotion lasts one month, the nonprofits avoid fundraising fatigue.

Monday Benefit Dinners Offer another Fundraising Vehicle

While all 12 months are dedicated to specific nonprofits, others participate in Perry’s philanthropy by hosting Monday benefit dinners at his restaurant at 663 Main St.

“Nonprofits ask to be a monthly beneficiary, and I hate to say no, so now we give them the big dining room on a Monday night,” he said. “The dinners are designed to be as cost free as possible – and as engaging with the community as possible. It’s great to have a room full of people congratulating each other for supporting a cause and it helps build momentum for the organization.”

Nonprofits that host a Monday dinner get 50% of the restaurant’s sales—perhaps as much as $2,000—but the exact amount depends on their getting the word out.

Naturestage, a nonprofit based in Watertown that uses the arts to reconnect people with nature, hosted the restaurant's twenty-seventh Monday benefit dinner on Nov. 19, attended by 40 people.

Miranda Loud, founder and artistic of Naturestage, said, "Bob was helpful from the get-go and was really invested in our success. He even printed out our mission statement and vision to put on the tables."

The approach also seems to pay off for Perry, which is why he is bullish on the approach and wants to see the program expand to other restaurants.

Since he began the program in September 2009, Perry said his revenue has increased by 30%, growth that he attributes largely to his philanthropy.

“Meals tax collections at the state level have not increased at the same level during this time, and our sister [Elephant Walk] restaurants in Cambridge and Boston, which currently do not run the same program, also have not seen the type of growth we’ve experienced,” he noted.

His approach works particularly well for a small business, he said.

“As a small business, independent restaurants that are not part of a large national chain have a real marketing challenge. They don’t have big budgets for marketing. If they’re good, they’ll get press early in their lives as they get discovered, but as the wave crests, when they’re not hot any more, the press will move on to cover the newest restaurant concepts.”

The buzz generated by nonprofits also works, according to Perry: "I eat in a restaurant because somebody told me it’s good, not by reading an ad. Getting people to talk about us is the best way to get more business.”

Because Perry commits a share of revenue, and not profits, nonprofits can count on receiving a check, because revenues will always be generated while profits may not be. He said he gives away $50,000 to $60,000 a year through his benefits program.

Perry also prefers his approach in place of contributing food to nonprofit fundraisers: “Those events are expensive and often take place on a weekend night when our regular staff is busy. Also, it doesn’t show us at our best since we cook in the afternoon and then have to transport it in the evening.”