Cause Marketing Defended. Now What?


With success comes the void. When I posted Defending Cause Marketing last week, I have to admit that while I knew cause marketing had many friends, I also knew it had its detractors, and I thought the latter just might win the day. They didn’t. The comments were overwhelmingly positive.

But Professor Angela Eikenbery’s article did make me think twice about how cause marketing is practiced and how it can at least be improved. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still a dyed-in-the-wool cause marketer, and would gladly pick Angie for a turn of “Dunk the Punk” (Need to talk to David about adding that to Cause Marketing Forum’s Annual Conference. Maybe I could get Angie by telling her we’d like her to sit on a [collapsing] panel.). She and I do agree on one thing: there are things about the industry that bug us and should be addressed.

But I need your help. (Judging from your comments last week, you’re all a lot smarter than I am.)

Here’s how it will work.

I’ll start. Today, I’m going to write on something about cause marketing I’d like to see changed and offer a step in the right direction, in this case, one that I can implement.

You’re next. You try tackling a challenge. You can address it in the comments section of this post. You can post something on your own blog and link back to mine. Or you can write a guest post for my blog. And, please, don’t sweat this one. It needn’t be long. John Haydon keeps telling me the ideal length is 300 words so start with that.

Scotty Henderson over at Media Sauce has graciously agreed to follow-up my post with his own on the subject. Thanks, Scotty. I owe you a cheese plate.

A special incentive. Because I would like to keep the dialogue going here at (hence the name), I have prizes!

You’ve probably heard of the Tides Loads of Hope program that brings free laundry services to victims in disaster areas. It’s actually one of my favorite cause marketing programs. It’s well executed and fulfills a really important, basic need in hard hit areas. When the folks at Tide offered me a few vintage tees last week I asked if I could use them for this promotion and they kindly agreed.

The first three people who agree to guest post on about tackling the thorny issues of cause marketing and how they can be solved will a get a free Tide tee.

Debugging a Bug in Cause Marketing

Something that drives me as crazy as ants at a picnic about cause marketing is how, for the most part, it’s dominated by the big nonprofits.

Komen for the Cure, Product RED, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, American Heart Association, Childen’s Miracle Network raise tens of millions of dollars from cause marketing every year. Their success with cause marketing is so impressive, so awe-inspiring and seemingly so sophisticated that there’s a moat around cause marketing that seems impossible for smaller causes to cross over.

But the good news is that the moat that looks so murky and deep is easy to cross when there is someone on the other side to lower the drawbridge. Many of the same cause marketing strategies large nonprofits use can be employed by all nonprofits, regardless of size. It’s just a matter of scale and setting realistic expectations.

That’s what I’ve learned over the past five years running a cause marketing program for my no-name Boston hospital. This year we’ll raise close to $500k just from cause marketing (which for us is mainly point-of-sale programs and does not include the money we raise from any associated events).

It’s not the millions the big causes raise, but it does make a difference. For instance, a cause marketing program this month with four retailers has already raised over $100k to keep our prescriptive food pantry serving 6,000 clients a month.

We raise decent money from cause marketing, and plan to grow our revenues. But we also want to help small nonprofits like yours raise money from cause marketing like the larger nonprofits do. That’s the bug I want to debug in cause marketing.

Some of you know that I’ve been toying with a new cause marketing program for small nonprofits called Six Figure Cause Marketing. I had planned to launch this program with my colleague, Joanna MacDonald, for personal profit and glory, but I have a new plan (you better let me tell Joanna).

  • Instead of pocketing the $299 from each participant I’ll donate the money to my nonprofit, Boston Medical Center. You may be asking why I’m charging anything if I’m so eager to help. Why not just give it away. Two words: job security. This allows me to justify spending work time helping nonprofits with their cause marketing programs.
  • Once I have a suitable recorded version of the program in hand (Remember, the original program will be a live webinar series with Joanna and me and include individual attention), I’ll drop the price for 6FCM substantially. Again, the money will go to my nonprofit. I promise you Joanna will not see one red cent.

So that’s one bug in cause marketing I plan to squash. No more cause marketing elitism. Power to the people. And all for charity.

But the bugs are everywhere.  Which one are you going to chase?