A Cause Marketer's Guide to Giving Over the Holidays

 Photo via Jamie McCaffrey on Flickr.

Photo via Jamie McCaffrey on Flickr.

"Evidently, we feel more obligated to give when asked, because we want to avoid looking like a cheapskate, to others and even to ourselves. Of course, some of the donation dodgers may be perfectly generous people who just find the Santas annoying. But that too can be a rationalization: Telling ourselves that we’ve donated in the past, or will donate at some future point, lets us feel generous even while we’re skirting a chance to give."

Source: Wall Street Journal

There's an interesting body of research that shows that people will go to great lengths to escape giving a donation over the holidays. Ah, the spirit of the unreformed Scrooge is very much alive!

Even for folks in the nonprofit field such as us, the unending request for money can sour generosity as obligation takes hold. Personally, I've been blown away by the of number charitable appeals I've been getting in the mail since Thanksgiving. It's overwhelming, and frustrating because there is no way I can support all of them.

To ensure the spirit of generosity doesn't harden into resentment, I'm doubling down on giving this holiday season. And I'm using cause marketing as my guide!

1. Giving to every Salvation Army red kettle. Through December I'll be giving to every Salvation Army red kettle I see. But I'll also be doing a little research when I do.

A study in the Journal of Political Economy found that donations went up by 50% or more if bell-ringers engaged shoppers (e.g. “Hi, how are you? Merry Christmas. Please give today.”) rather than just standing by silently.

I'll make a donation whether the bell ringer asks me not. But if they do ask me, I'll double my gift on the spot. I'll also hang around to see what the next five shoppers do. I want to see if the percentage of shoppers that do give is indeed higher with engaged bell-ringers. I even bought a little notebook to keep track of my experiment.

2. Buying gifts that give back. This is probably the biggest time of year for purchase-triggered donations (i.e. when businesses give a percentage or portion of sales back to a cause when they sell a product or service). This is heaven for cause marketers, but it's also a bit hellish as more articles pop up saying that cause marketing is a scam. Still, there is a way to responsibly buy products and services that give back.

Here's the four-step criteria I'll be using for gifts over the next few weeks.

1. Is the product useful? I hate when companies just make schmutz and slap a pink ribbon or flag on it and donate a penny from sales to charity. No, I don't need a pink koozie or cheap pink sunglasses that support Komen. I prefer that companies support a cause with their everyday products. I even get perturbed when I see red Apple products that give back to (RED). Do we really need a red iPad? Just make donations from your regular iPad. 

2. Is the gift transparent? Is there a sign or tag that identifies the product or service as buy-to-give. 

3. Does it mention a specific charity? "Donations will go to area charities" isn't even close to being good enough. I need to know which charity the donation will benefit. If I've heard of the charity even better. That said, I love supporting new organizations!

4. Is a specific donation amount given? "Proceeds," "profits," "portion of sales" won't work. You need to tell me exactly how much of my money is going to a cause. I'll even take the extra step of asking a store representative if they know how much is donated to the cause.

For example, the other day when I was writing about the Food for All app, I tweeted them to clarify how much was being donated to the Greater Boston Food Bank. They were clear in their response. 

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Of course, whatever purchase-triggered gifts I find I'll be sharing them on Pinterest. With over 200 pins, this is one of my biggest cause-related boards! You'll also find other purchase-triggered gifts on my Christmas cause marketing board.

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