The prolific Paul Jones over at Cause-Related Marketing has written a great post on Cause Marketing Advisory Boards and how they can help build a nonprofits cause marketing program. If not for the guidance from my own boss, I would be ridiculing Paul right now (which Paul knows I prefer). I hate boards and committees and have generally found them to be a complete waste of time. Arm chair warriors who talk a lot, but really know nothing, and do even less. But not the cause marketing committee we created at the hospital. Here's why. Creating institutional buy-in. When my boss launched the cause marketing program four years ago he had to leverage some of his own personal credibility with senior management to begin an effort many were uncomfortable and unfamiliar with. He knew he needed to spread the load and to involve others to sustain the momentum during those uncertain times. That's where the cause marketing committee came in. He packed it with knowledgeable, well respected supporters and donors that soldified cause marketing as an institutional priority. This was no longer one man's personal aspiration. It was the shared goal of some of the most well respected supporters of the organization.
Building a pond to fish in. In addition to choosing key supporters of the institution, we packed it with the CEO's of retailers with whom we wanted to work on cause marketing programs. The committee meetings were excellent settings to educate them about cause marketing, to share success stories and to slowly chip away at any doubts they had about running a program. In short, our cause marketing committee became our own personal fishing hole for new partners. If a new retailer said no to a cause marketing pact but wanted to be supportive of the organization, they joined the committee. And they weren't on the committee very long before we sealed a deal--or figured out they never would.
Two-way education. Education on the committee was two-way: we learned a lot from retailers what would and wouldn't work in stores. Sometimes we pitched programs that were just too complicated and our retail members would point out all the demands placed on their register clerks and that we were asking a lot from people making seven bucks an hour! So while we educated them about cause marketing, they taught us about retailing. It was a productive, win-win partnership.
You might think after reading this that our cause marketing committee is working hard for us to this very day. It's not. Eventually we had all the buy-in we needed, all the committee members were on board for a program in one way or another, and we had picked their rolodexes clean to boot. And while there was always something new to learn about retailing and cause marketing, we all eventually talked ourselves to exhaustion.
We didn't disband the committee, but we dropped the "cause" in the name and switched the focus to hospital branding and the marketing of clinical services. It's a more challenging assignment for them and I think they're enjoying their new responsibilities. We still occasionally talk about cause marketing. Some even put their arm behind their back and yell as if I'm still twisting it. It's nice that they remember the good old days.