Cause Marketing 101

Last week I spoke to the Mass. chapter of AFP about cause marketing.  It was a lot of fun presenting and I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on:

  • What cause marketing is.
  • Who's doing it well.
  • The cause marketing program at my nonprofit and our special partnership with iParty.
  • How to build a successful program.
  • Resources I use to follow trends in cause marketing.

What cause marketing is.  I defined it as a partnership between a nonprofit and a for profit for mutual profit.  The "profit" for the nonprofit is visibility and/or money.  For the for profit it's favorability and money.  The bottom-line is that consumers are more likely to buy from a company they view positively and cause marketing delivers favorability in spades.

Who's doing it well.  I started with American Express' Statue of Liberty campaign, which many regard as the first major cause marketing program.  Moving from the oldest cause marketing program, I spoke about the hottest, Bono's RED.  I also talked about how RED is making cause marketing--and cause marketers like me, I fervently pray--cool.  Next, I talked about Komen and their remarkable breadth of programs--100 during the month of October alone!  Local success stories I profiled included Jimmy Fund/Stop & Shop, Jumpstart/Starbucks and Earth Share of New England/Organic Cow

Our partnership with iParty.  Denell Nuese, Director of Marketing at iParty, was on hand to talk about why and how they got involved in Halloween Town. She stressed the importance of both partners being committed, having open communication and the nonprofit making the program just as turn-key as possible for the retailer.  She also encouraged attendees not to call her because iParty only did fundraising for my nonprofit (music to my ears)!

How to build a successful program. 

  • Leverage your assets.  Every nonprofit has some asset, some strength they can leverage in the marketplace.  For my nonprofit, it was our great relationship with iParty that produced Halloween Town.  You may have an equally strong partner.  Or maybe you have a celebrity supporter or a well known brand or an energetic board.  Whatever your organization has going for it, use it.
  • Stop talking about yourself.  Too many fundraisers are too focused on their needs.  I want this, I want that, etc.  Businesses know who you are and what you want (money--insert sucking sound here).  Why?  Because they get hit-up all the time!  Take a different tack and tell them something they don't know about you, like how you can help them grow their business.  When the others zig, you gotta zag.
  • Start talking like a business consultant.  Think of yourself as a nonprofit professional who helps companies make and save money.  The benefit to you is that you make money for your company.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, it's called a BUSINESS.  And that's what a nonprofit is, a business.  Cause marketers work for a business and sell to them.  Think, talk and act accordingly.
  • Give it away.  Given the choice between doing traditional advertising or cause marketing, a business will choose the former 99.9% of the time.  Cause marketing is too "soft", too unfamiliar for them.  The best way to land a new cause marketing pact is to give it away (yep, 100% free) but with the condition that the company raise money from their customers or employees.  We did this for Halloween Town with great success.  Remember, if you leave a company meeting with a check--and it will be a small check, I assure you--you lost.  The real money in working with companies is in tapping the generosity of its customers.  Ask Bobby Shriver and Bono.
  • Be realistic.  Cause marketing isn't a cure-all.  It generally only accounts for between 5 and 15 percent of a nonprofit's total fundraising revenues.  In short, it's a small piece of the pie. 
  • Keep the end in mind.  Why say it again?

Resources I use to follow trends in cause marketing. I, of course, mentioned my two blogs, SG and TSG, along with the Cause Marketing Forum and Cone.  My blogroll on Selfish Giving also points to a number of good blogs that directly or indirectly follow cause marketing.  I also read Ad Age, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

My parting comment to my listeners was that above all else cause marketing is about opportunity.  Finding opportunity.  Creating opportunity.  Seizing opportunity.  So, are you up for the challenge?