5 Tips for Low-Budget Cause Marketing

The majority of calls I take on cause marketing are from budget-conscious small nonprofits raising anywhere from a few hundred thousand to a few million a year. They have a small staff and one or two development people, who usually have other responsibilities like marketing or public relations (or sometimes everything!). They also have limited resources and can't invest in new staff, advertising or training. What they all share is exactly the same question: what are some low-budget and easy ways I can get started with cause marketing?

Here are five tips to get you going.

Look within. The beginnings of cause marketing success are usually found within--via an existing corporate relationship or a board member who is also a business owner--not without. My first two cause marketing partners, iParty and Ocean State Job Lots, supported my nonprofit with in-kind and cash gifts from their CEO's long before they involved their stores and customers. Look around to see what existing corporate relationships you can take a new direction.

Visit Cause Marketing Forum. Man, if I got a quarter for every time I recommended Cause Marketing Forum to someone I could fund my twice-a-day Starbucks habit with something besides my kids' college funds. But the fact I promote it gratis shows just how valuable this site is for budding cause marketers. The sheer amount of information on the CMF site is impressive! There's so much to learn. Just reading the site end to end you would gain quite a knowledge of cause marketing.  I know that firsthand, because I've done just that. Enhance your online learning experience by joining me at CMF's annual conference in Chicago this June.

Stick to pinups. There are lots of ways to raise money with cause marketing, but none of them are easier or more lucrative than pinups. My most recent major pinup program raised $212,000 and had only $7,000 in expenses. The costs on each pinup range from 8 to 15 cents. If you sell your pinups for between $1 and $5 ($1 is typical, but I've sold them for as much as $3. Others sell them for as much as $5), you'll maximize the return for your organization and raise a lot of money. It's no coincidence that some of the most successful cause marketing programs involve pinups.

Jump into social media. I don't get the hesitation from nonprofits on social media. I think we can all agree that what social media represents--two way communication, user-generated content, etc.--is here to stay (even if Facebook, Twitter et al are not). Nonprofits also don't have many other good choices besides social media. I haven't heard this one lately: "We're waiting to start a blog because we're in the midst of a $10 million advertising campaign." So why aren't these nonprofits all over social media? And why aren't they exploring ways to use social media with cause marketing? I've written a lot about using Foursquare for cause marketing. One of the ways you can get started in cause marketing is to get busy marrying social media to it. Because this is a match made in heaven. Do it now so you'll have one less thing to play catch-up on a year from now.

Work with me. Some nonprofits decide they don't have the time, staff and resources for cause marketing and make the most cost-effective decision they can: they call me. Often it's a nonprofit that already has a bird in the hand (a corporate relationship!) and wants to get going. They bring the partner to the table, we close them on a cause marketing partnership with our two organizations and execute the program from start to finish. At the end of the program--and after expenses have been paid--we split the money. While the nonprofit could have tried to execute the program themselves and collected 100% of the dollars raised, my team and I know these programs cold and how to squeeze every dime out of the partnership. We do all the work and the nonprofit gets a check. So far it's worked really well for everyone.

These are my five tips for low-budget cause marketing. What would you add to my list?