5 Cause Marketing Mistakes You Don't Have to Make

Mistakes are part of life. And over the past seven years as a director of cause marketing, I've made more than my share! Here are five mistakes you don't have to make, and I'll never make again.

Thinking that cause marketing can build brand. We started our cause marketing program seven years ago believing that cause marketing could have a transformative impact on our brand (i.e. what people felt and experienced when they came into contact with our nonprofit). But that didn't happen. While cause marketing is a natural next step for an established cause brand (e.g. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Komen for the Cure, etc.), it's a building block, not a foundation stone.

Wasting my time coming up with interesting and creative ideas when partnerships are the key to success. I love interesting cause marketing ideas. But they're nothing without a partner to execute them. Without a partner, you just have an idea. With a partner, your halfway to success. Given the choice between a novel cause marketing promotion and a partner interested in a simple point-of-sale program, I'd take the latter. Now when causes call me to ask for help, my involvement hinges on their answer to this one question: "Do you have a partner to execute this wonderful cause marketing vision of yours?"

Assuming that every company wants to be your life-long partner. Cause marketing partners are like friends. Some are good, life-long friends and others are fair weather friends. The latter is fine as long as you don't confuse them with the former. Some cause marketing partners will stick with you for a year or two and then they'll move on to something else, maybe another cause. That's part of life and working in cause marketing. Friends are great, but know who your true friends are and never stop looking for new ones.

Not being happy with just making money. Nonprofits need to be more realistic about what cause marketing can accomplish. Yes, it can increase awareness of your cause. (Awareness, yes. Brand, no.) Yes, it's a great way to deepen a relationship with an existing partner. But sometimes the best thing about cause marketing is that it raises money for your cause. Cash is tangible, measurable and bosses love it!

Growing too big too fast. Just about any organization can do cause marketing (if they have a corporate partner!). But very few should commit to a cause marketing program. Here's the difference. If you have a partner, do a cause marketing promotion. You'll raise money and awareness. But don't think you're ready to launch your own cause marketing program with a dedicated team of sales and marketing professionals. Grow your program organically and commit resources as needed. Not every cause is the next St. Jude or Prodcut (RED). Some causes are destined to do just one or two programs a year.

For over 95% of nonprofits, cause marketing will be transactional, sporadic, unmeasurable and uncertain. I'm obviously still a big fan of the practice as cause marketing should be part of most nonprofits' fundraising mix. But we should also face up to the realities of the practice. Any truth is better than make believe.