Iced coffee with an extra shot of joy. That’s what was featured on the Dunkin’ menu on May 25th when franchisees across the country celebrated the brand’s first National Iced Coffee Day and committed to donating $1 from every iced coffee sold to the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation (Dunkin’ Joy.) The result was a steady stream of iced coffee, a lot of smiles on both sides of the counter and staggering $1.8 million dollars raised. 

“In one day, $1.8 million dollars. Just think about that,” says Victor Carvalho, a Dunkin’ franchisee and co-chair of the foundation. “We are so excited and proud about this donation, and we want to acknowledge and thank franchisees for their hard work on that day.” 

The idea for a National Iced Coffee Day has been brewing for years. It’s been a goal for the foundation and franchisees who have hosted it in local markets including Boston, DC/Baltimore, Hartford and Maine. “Seeing the success of those small pocket markets doing this promotion for a single day to benefit local hospitals – over time we saw there was opportunity to take it national,” says April McGonnigal, director of Dunkin’ Joy. “It really is built on the history of success in local markets, franchisees seeing the impact, and hospitals feeling the impact.”

Local hospitals are already feeling the impact because last month the foundation awarded over 85 grants to local children’s hospitals to support dozens of initiatives that bring joy to young patients. The money will help provide art and music programs, specialized summer camps, electronic gaming equipment and staffing of child life specialists. 

Every dollar stays in the community where it was raised, and that was a vital piece of the initiative, says McGonnigal. “For this day, we worked with franchisee teams to identify the hospitals they wanted to partner with at the local level. It was important because our franchisees and communities feel an attachment and passion for these hospitals.”

That passion and commitment for their local community was a key ingredient in the day’s success for the Alabama franchise group Southern Food Services. So much so, they had the top two fundraising totals in the country. “The Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation is a fantastic cause, one that’s easy to get behind and one that we have supported for years,” says Richard Bruce, SFS’ chief operating officer. “We know our customers well and we knew that with this money going to Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children, our guests would support it completely. It was a no brainer.” 

Bruce says participating in the national celebration was a priority for franchise owner, Blake Robinson. “This was the first one for us and right off the bat, we started planning and putting some strategies together weeks in advance,” he says. “Our mission statement is to be recognized as the best, and we bring that to everything we do with Dunkin’ Joy, including the National Iced Coffee Day. 

Together, Robinson and Bruce brainstormed, created and funded incentives for their 10 stores (now 11) in Northern Alabama. The top prize was a 3-day trip at one of several locations for the winning general manager and a pizza party for the team. The second-place manager received $100 to spend in their store however they chose, and third place got Dunkin’ swag and $50 to spend on their team.  Their teams embraced the challenge, and the top three stores achieved an impressive fundraising total of $2,833.

“It was important enough to us to reward them. That’s our culture, to take care of our people and we have to walk what we talk, or it never goes anywhere,” Bruce says proudly. “The Robinson family has always gone above and beyond to give all they could to the community and one thing I’ve learned is if it’s important to our owners, and we communicate that with our team, it becomes important to them.”  

McGonnigal explained that because this was a national program in stores, it was built into the Dunkin’ marketing calendar and treated as a promotion with the same corporate support as National Donut Day and Coffee Day. But enthusiastic field team members and franchisees added to the flavor of the day with contests like the one at Southern Food Services, appearances on local news shows, and promotions on social media platforms. 

Bruce said in their stores, they predominantly used word of mouth to promote the day. “We started talking about it early, among our team and with our customers. We communicated that this day was coming and what it was all about. That week we had customers rushing in excitedly asking ‘It’s this week, right? I can’t wait!’” 

Bruce describes May 25th as one of those days that was so fun, it rushed by in the blink of an eye. Every hour, if he wasn’t in a store, he was calling in to learn their iced coffee totals. “We were high-fiving each other and our customers were just as excited, making donations on top of the cost of the iced coffee,” he says. “We had a couple of stores where the person at the window would pay for the next two cars behind them. And that continued all day long. It’s a wonderful thing to see a community get so fired up for a cause.”

Carvalho describes a similar buzz in his stores south of Boston, saying, “Customers were coming in because they knew they were still getting their favorite iced coffee, and they weren’t paying any extra for it. But they also knew that their iced coffee was going to taste even better that day because it was benefitting a child.” 

Carvalho’s Massachusetts customers were greeted by employees wearing colorful leis and sunglasses, as well as a sense of pride. “Leading up to this day, we explained what we were doing and more importantly, who was going to benefit from it,” Carvalho says. “I visited my restaurants and had fun with them, but they certainly understood the bigger picture that they were giving back to the most vulnerable children among us.”

A similar scene played out at Dunkin’ locations from Rhode Island to California, with an unmistakable energy in stores, especially from employees serving the iced coffee. “The feedback we got was that our crew members felt extra proud to work for Dunkin’ that day,” says McGonnigal. “Given how challenging the workforce is right now – not just for our franchisees but for so many companies – that makes us feel really good. It was another, unexpected, positive aspect to the day.” 

From a strictly business perspective, the day was also a positive. Anecdotally, franchisees say they saw increased foot traffic in their stores. Sales data supports that, with a documented increase in iced coffee sales over previous Wednesdays as well as increase in store sales volume. But Carvalho and McGonnigal are quick to credit franchisees for the day’s success and emphasize that, at the end of the day, the $1.8 million is a franchisee donation. “National Iced Coffee Day, its success and this donation would not have been possible without the support and generosity of our franchisees,” McGonnigal says. 

The phenomenal success of the National Iced Coffee Day debut not only gives momentum to other Dunkin’ Joy programs, but also bodes well for future growth of the program and the special day. Bruce says his team is already looking forward to next year, and jokes if there isn’t another national celebration, they’ll do something on their own in Alabama. 

“What happens in a corporate setting sometimes, is people think it’s just numbers. We don’t think that way. We manage with compassion, and we know if we don’t have the buy-in from our community, we’re just another store down the road,” says Bruce. “We see the proof here every day—we see the families and the children who benefit from the foundation, and we know we made a difference. That’s all we need.”

Carvalho agrees and notes the many ways franchisees independently provide support to their respective communities, whether it’s through hospital donations, contributing to the local food bank or sponsoring a neighborhood Little League team. “Franchisees are always looking to give back, there’s always that connection,” he says. “But when we can rally together and raise $1.8 million, the power of that unity means so much to so many. What we’re giving is hope to these young patients and their families through Dunkin’ Joy. It’s priceless.”