Cause Marketing Losers

churchsign_loserLast week I was part of a group of Boston cause marketers David Hessekiel from Cause Marketing Forum pulled together to discuss the field. It was a lot of fun, and I think we all learned something from each other. In addition to my own organization, there were reps from The Jimmy Fund, Oxfam, Pine Street Inn, Children's Hospital, Project Bread and The Home for Little Wanderers. We all run cause marketing programs, albeit all at different stages from the dormant to the sophisticated. We all had some success to speak of, but in each of us, myself included, there was talk of frustrations, challenges and even inadequacies.

But there was also a great sense of determination among everyone there to get the job done and support our respective organizations.

For the Home of Little Wanderers, there was talk of low brand recognition and the struggle to communicate all the things they did in the community.

Solution: The Home is focusing its corporate efforts on the holiday season where it has its most well known and most successful programs (i.e. annual toy drive and holiday card sales).

Brand recognition has never been a problem for The Jimmy Fund here in New England, but it is outside the hospital's service area. This has become a bigger problem as national companies gravitate toward working with national charities that mirror their customer base.

Solution: The Jimmy Fund developed a national cause marketing program for cancer charities of which they are a member. Incredibly, now they are raising more money than ever before thanks to their national footprint! It's nice to see that some good deeds are rewarded.

Like The Jimmy Fund, The Pine Street Inn, is no stranger to innovation. While their cause marketing program is currently in transition, they were the geniuses behind what I called their Tower of Power. I hope in these tough times they will now see the wisdom in bringing it back!

If The Pine Street Inn was the smallest organization represented in the group, Oxfam was by far the biggest. We discussed how there were very few international cause marketing brands, and how Oxfam was strategically positioned to be one of them. Wow! What an incredibly exciting and powerful opportunity.

Project Bread has incredible cause marketing potential with its annual Walk For Hunger that last year had 44,000 walkers. But even with this huge public event, Project Bread is still mistaken for other local banks, like the New England Food Bank. But this isn't deterring them from pursuing corporate sponsorships.

Children's Hospital - Boston certainly had one of the more powerful brands in the room. Sick kids and fundraising are a pretty potent combo. But walled out from pursuing many national pacts because of their partnership with Children's Miracle Network (which for sure brings them money) they are also penned in to a very competitive Boston marketplace where "sick kids" have to compete with every other worthy cause under the sun. Or do they?

Solution: Children's has escaped their earthly bonds for virtual freedom! Generation Cures, an online gaming community, empowers 'tweens and families across the country to learn how science saves lives while raising money to develop cures for kids. Corporate sponsors can participate via coupon programs, cause marketing, and naming opportunities.

Sitting around that table last week in Boston we didn't talk like we were some of New England's better cause marketers, but we were.  We were better because there were a hundred reasons why each of our organizations should have never started a cause marketing program, but they did.

We were better because once established in cause marketing we continued to drive innovation (cue: Keep Walking). The folks at The Pine Street Inn looked up at the tower that lorded over them. Children's Hospital saw an opportunity in the ether of online. The Jimmy Fund saw dollar signs in working with other cancer organizations. And BMC decided to become showmen and launch its very own Halloween event in downtown Boston.

The same could even be said of David Hessekiel when he gave up journalism and started a cause-venture, Cause Marketing Forum, that benefits so many people who want to start or to grow in the field of cause marketing.

You could see on everyone's faces and hear in all their stories that not everything had gone as planned. There were roadblocks. Stumbles. Lost opportunities. But each of us, in our own way, was pressing toward the mark with intelligence, resourcefulness and grit.

It wasn't hard to understand why. We didn't start as winners. But we are working hard to make ourselves ones every day.