Support a Cause, Grow a Business

The Aspen Times recently ran an article on the print ads the Aspen Ski Company are using to Save Snow. The ads contend that unless people take action against global warming, snow and skiing will disappear by 2100.

Executives at the company believe the ads will be good for snow and for business.

"In a letter to reporters that accompanied copies of the new ad campaign, Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Pat O'Donnell wrote that 'recent surveys' show 30 percent of Skico visitors ranked environmental sustainability as an important factor when choosing a travel destination. That is up from about 10 percent five years ago, according to O'Donnell."

This is in contrast to research done by Skico in 2001 that found that "environmental issues were 'neither highly important nor motivating for our three target segments.' It advised Skico officials to focus on other issues that were more capable of selling lift tickets."

But Skico is convinced the times have changed.  I agree.  So does Tom Watson over at onPhilanthropy who wrote Modern Philanthropy: Bring Out the Consumer Brands.

The May 2006 issue of Conde Nast's upscale consumer magazine Vanity Fair may well be remembered as a key chapter in the long history of American Philanthropy....the special Green Issue of Vanity Fair etched another big scratch in the timeline of the ever-expanding nonprofit sector.

There on the cover were two movie stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts along with Al Gore and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.  The issue-oriented tableau was tinged in green, against a green backdrop of what appears to be lettuce, with Ms. Roberts draped in a silky, leaf-life gown of verdant splendor.  All of this was arranged by editor Graydon Carter in the noble cause of environmentalism, or to be more precise, in the cause of making the environmentalist movement cool.

Clearly Vanity Fair recognized a growing and demonstrable trend in our society: the fact that modern American philanthropy is a consumer marketplace.

I know what you're thinking: "Great. Thank you, Mr. Selfish. You're right, of course, that consumers expect companies to be cause-oriented and that philanthropy, like Internet shopping and four dollar lattes, has become an inescapable part of American life. But as a business owner how do I--ahem--profit from this?" 

Good question.  That's why I'm here.

Don't think marketing effort. Think company effort. The former is sooooo 1.0. Read my post on Cause Marketing 2.0 to warp your way out of the 1990's.

Put your customers first. You probably do this already if you run a successful business. Continue the practice when picking your charity. Choose a charity partner that fits with your business and will resonate with your customers. Global warming works with Skico's customers. Run a restaurant? Support a food pantry. Have a clothing store? Give winter jackets to homeless kids. You get the picture.

Give and take. Picking a charity is just the first step. The next is to interrogate interview charities to find out what you can expect of each other. Is there give and take or just take? Do they have experience working with businesses? And, yes, ask them flat out: how will you help me grow my business?

Finally, Don't do one-offs. Doing one program with a charity is like advertising on the radio for a day: it doesn't work. Pick a charity and find lots of different ways to work with them.