Cause Marketing for Small Nonprofits: Jake's Ride


My friend Beth Pfeil's (@readerbean) nonprofit is the cause with the big name and the small staff. The Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson Foundation has only four employees, but that hasn't stopped them from raising millions for better treatments and cures for the movement disorders dystonia and Parkinson's disease.

Since Beth joined Bachmann-Strauss three years ago as their Special Events Manager, she's managed their annual golf tournament, New York City marathon team and a very special fundraiser called Jake's Ride. Held in the Short Hills/Millburn area of New Jersey, Jake’s Ride is named in honor of 11-year-old Jake Silverman, who has dystonia, and last year raised $270,096.

I wasn't surprised when Beth called me six months ago to talk about cause marketing. First, she was the first member of my cause marketing team when I joined BMC in 2004. And while she specialized in events, she played a key role in our early successes and saw firsthand the value of cause marketing. In a way, Beth was both a contributor to and first graduate of Six Figure Cause Marketing

Second, since joining Bachmann-Strauss we had talked enough to know she worked for a great cause with a lot of committed donors. I knew there must be a couple business owners among her supporters to launch a cause marketing program! Beth was calling to share the exciting news that she had finally found a partner.

11-year-old Jake's aunt worked at Garden of Eden, a grocer and specialty food store with five locations in New York and one in New Jersey (separately known as Eden Gourmet). Thanks to the generosity of Garden of Eden and Beth's great ability to explain the basics and benefits of cause marketing, the grocer agreed to do a month-long pinup programat the register to raise funds for Bachmann-Strauss and to promote Jake's Ride. While the program just began on September 8th, I spoke with Beth last week about some of the early results.

Selfish Giving: In addition to printing pinups to be sold at the registers for $1, $2 and $5, what else did you supply the stores with?

Beth: We gave them register signs and posters. I learned during my experience at BMC that while register signs don't replace a direct ask from the cashier, they do help drive customer curiosity at the register. The posters help promote the bike ride itself. I might have skipped them if Garden of Eden had allowed the pinups to be hung in their windows. But since they didn't, I felt we needed them to promote the ride.

Selfish Giving: So what type of response are you seeing in the stores?

Beth: An excellent response from one store and good responses the other five. The biggest challenge is getting cashiers to ask the question at the register. When they do, you raise money. One store has been asking people like crazy and in just a few days raised $1,200, which is was as much as the five other stores have raised combined. The successful store has a strong top-down approach. Managers inspire employees to ask and customers to give. They've created a friendly competition among employees and even posted pictures of Jake on the credit swiper so shoppers can't miss it. In short, they give cashiers fewer reasons not to ask and customers good reasons to say yes.

Selfish Giving: Are you using any incentives in your program?

Beth: We are. We have a $100 American Express gift card for each store and plan to give it to the cashier who sells the most pinups. For the stores that are just doing OK, I don't think the prospect of winning a gift card is making a big difference. For the store that is kicking butt, yeah, I think it's an added bonus. Pretty much the same results we saw with our programs at BMC, isn't it, Joe?

Selfish Giving: It is! So to keep this program raising money, how do you plan on working with the stores moving forward.

Beth: First, I think it's important to stay positive with employees and to emphasize that it is easy, fun and really does support a great cause. We plan to show the latter by having Jake visit some of the stores so he can thank them personally for their work. Second, I think it's important to share best practices with stores. When something is working at one store, like the pictures of Jake posted to the credit card swiper, for instance, it's important to share that with the others. Finally, it's important that we work closely with the owners and managers of Garden of Eden so employees see and hear that they are fully vested in the program and committed so making it a success.

Selfish Giving: You've just started down the road of cause marketing with your current organization. Would you recommend it for other small nonprofits?

Beth: I would. It's a great branding opportunity, and as you and I learned from Halloween Town at BMC, when you tie it in with a special event it's a great way promotional tool. The other good thing about cause marketing is that it doesn't require a huge upfront investment. The expenses for pinups, posters and registers signs were modest. But you also need to be realistic about how much you can raise--I'll be thrilled if we raised $5,000. But money is just one way we'll evaluate the success of this program.

Selfish Giving: Beth, this is a great first effort for your organization. Congratulations on showing both the leadership team at Bachmann-Strauss and at Garden of Eden the win-win benefits of cause marketing. I'm sure the program will be successful in raising money and promoting Jake's Ride!