I couldn't believe this story out of Iowa that had a local nonprofit suing Panera Bread over canister donations. It seems like a big case of he said, she said if you ask me, but it clearly doesn't put cause marketing partnerships in the best light.
As David Hessekiel, my friend and head of our industry's trade group, Cause Marketing Forum, pointed out in the story, he had never seen a case between cause marketing partners end up in court.
And I hope we never do again.
Forget about going to court, even a contentious relationship between partners is bad news for cause marketing. It's bad for the nonprofit, the business and, ultimately, the cause both groups are trying to help.
So here are 5 tips to keep your cause marketing on track and the dueling guns safely tucked away.
Have an agreement. It can be a contract or a simple letter of agreement. But have something in writing that explains what the program involves, when it starts and ends, who does what and how and when the money is collected and distributed.
Be in it for the right reasons. If you read the Panera story it's obvious that both parties lost site of the reason for the canister donations, which was twofold: to support a shelter and to visibly demonstrate Panera's involvement in the community. If both business and cause were both completely committed to these ends they would have never ended up in court. They wouldn't have let themselves because the work before them would have been too important to mess around with lawyers and the legal system.
Have a point person, preferably near the top. This always doesn't have to be the president of the company. It could be a director, a manager but it's the person that can solve a problem when you have one. A point person is not a cashier at register #9, unless he happens to be the much beloved nephew of the president.
Nip problems in the bud. We make a point to address problems just as soon as they arise. When a retailer was slow in sending us money from a recent cause marketing program we didn't sit around waiting for the mail. We immediately contacted our point person and got the situation resolved. It turned out to be a simple misunderstanding, not an excuse to launch a lawsuit. Don't wait for problems to resolve themselves and don't let them fester. It's like poison to a partnership.
Know when to end it. I've never had to cancel a cause marketing program. But I know when I will. When I don't have an agreement, no commitment to mission, no point person, which means no return phone call when I need to nip something in the bud.
That's one fight I'm never going to win.