A Halo for Winners, A Crown for Cause Marketing Forum


I just returned from a great outing at Cause Marketing Forum's 7th Annual Conference in Chicago last week. Despite the economy that has impacted us all, David Hessekiel, Founder & President of CMF, pulled together a great show. The conference featured some wonderfully entertaining and informative speakers, and CMF honored some incredible businesses and nonprofits with their signature "Halo Awards" for outstanding cause marketing. My takeaways from the event this year included:

Social media works. Since the last CMF conference in May 2008 I've really worked hard to connect with other fundraisers and cause marketers via social networks (Linked-In, Facebook, but especially through Twitter). Turns out, it hasn't been a waste of time. Not only was it a blast to finally meet many of these people in person at CMF, but our ongoing social media connection allowed us to accelerate conversations when we did meet. We had better conversations that led to more useful introductions at the conference. In short, social media helped me to deepen and expand my business network.

They don't call Carol Cone the "Mother of Cause Marketing" for nothing. Carol is our industry's best thought leader. In addition to being an incredible speaker, she has a wonderful sense of where the industry is headed and what all cause marketers, nonprofit and for-profit, large and small, need to do get out in front of the business. It was worth going to CMF just to hear from her.

The way speakers present and attendees listen needs to change - NOW. Looking around the room at the conference, it blew me away to see speakers droning on and on and hiding behind their PowerPoints. Meanwhile, conference-goers pecked away at their Blackberries, talking quietly into their iPhones, getting up and walking in and out of the conference hall. AND I WAS A PUBLIC OFFENDER #1! Speakers need short (20 minutes max.), human, varied, powerful presentations and attendees need to check their electronics at the door and give the speaker a chance to earn their attention. They need to follow that up with good, thoughtful questions afterwards.

While interesting, engaging and vibrant, cause marketing seems stuck. This year's conference had 300 attendees. Last year's had 500. Despite the obvious hit in attendees because of the economy, I still wondered: where the hell are all the cause marketers? Our annual conference should have over 1,000 attendees. But cause marketing continues to be very niche. How many blogs cover the field, 2 or 3? 

So I left the Cause Marketing Forum Conference thrilled that I had been there, happy that David Hessekiel decided seven years ago to start one, proud that I was involved with something so innovative, creative and, yes, charitable. I also left pleased that I was genuinely impressed by the people I had met. People who were generally smart, personable, kind, and, yes, funny.

But I also left thinking that as an industry we need to do better. We need to grow our ranks with new professionals, and rally existing professionals, both on the non- and for-profit side, to our banner. We need to teach smaller nonprofits the benefits of cause marketing and how to raise money from it. (And, yes, the key word is money because if we can show them that cause marketing can do that--with realistic expectations of how much--their attention will be ours.) Finally, we can't put this all on David's shoulders, or on our "Mother" Carol Cone.

It's up to people like you and me who sat and listened last week and knew what we were hearing was good and useful and interesting. But realized that we each knew three people who would have felt the same way but we never asked them to join us.