Magnetic Cause Marketing in 3 Easy Steps


Fundraisers ask me all the time how they can have a successful cause marketing program, or build upon the one they have. I tell them the answer is simple. They lean in. The key is actually three things, I whisper. They reach for a notepad and pen. The key, I say, is BRAND.....BRAND.....BRAND.

While they initially shrug off my answer, they come around when I explain it to them.

Powerful nonprofit brands are like magnets. They do good things and good things are in turn attracted to them. Take national causes like Feeding America, Product RED, St. Jude and Children's Miracle Network. They do great work, and companies flock to partner with them.

And locally here in Boston I don't have to look any further than The Jimmy Fund and Children's Hospital. Both attract companies that want to support their mission and bask in the aura of their well deserved and well known goodness.

Unfortunately, and probably like you, I've witnessed this from afar because my nonprofit's brand doesn't have a particularly strong pull. It's just as strong as any other brand out there, but it's weakened by a cloak and anonymity and relevance that's deadly to causes.

I got thinking about this whole topic after I read Jeff Brook's post in Fundraising Success on nonprofit branding. In You're Not Nike - Get Over It Jeff highlights the perils of corporate branding and why they shouldn't be adopted by nonprofits. I don't agree with everything Jeff says, but I do agree with what he suggests for nonprofit branding.

For me, a brand is what you experience--what you feel--when you come into contact with someone's product or service. For example, when I see a Zipcar my thoughts turn to urban-eco-hipsters. When I use my new Apple iPhone 4G I feel trendy geek.

Last week my wife asked me if I could live a bit less without my beloved Starbucks so we could send our kids to a good private college one day. She even suggested we invest in a nice espresso machine.

"I think I would miss going into my favorite Starbucks more than I miss the coffee", I told her. I just like the feeling I get going into a Starbucks. The smells, the conversation, the different products, the atmosphere, etc.

Good brands, whether for-profit or nonprofit, generate strong, visceral energy that's as strong and addictive as anything Starbucks serves.

But as a nonprofit, how do you create that powerful brand? Jeff Brooks has a suggestion.

An effective nonprofit brand takes a different approach: Instead of a look-at-me brand, it's a look-at-you brand. It recognizes that donors give to make good things happen, not to support an organization. Instead of promising to be the coolest charity on the block, it promises a fulfilling, information-rich experience that will maximize the donor's impact. It says two things:

● You'll have a lot of impact.

● You'll see that impact, clearly and dramatically.

I like Jeff's thinking because he's talking about creating and communicating a powerful experience, a powerful feeling for the donor.

That's one thing we're trying to do a better job of at my nonprofit.

As many of you know, I work for a safety-net hospital and we serve a very poor population. Many of our donors have never been patients at our hospital, which, by the way, is the exact way most hospitals raise money. Grateful Patients With Capacity as we call them in the biz.

They're like alumni. In our case our donors share our ideals, but not the campus experience. And experiences matter; connection and identification drive giving. I like to tell people that asking for money for my cause is like asking people to give to a college they didn't go to. Would you give to your local community college even though you went to Harvard?

Asking people to support quality healthcare for everyone is less magnetic than the appeals from cancer and other health causes that truly tug at people's lives.

Part of our branding efforts includes sharing the work of the hospital personally, powerfully so supporters can put faces, mainly those of women and children, to our tagline exceptional care, without exception. Social media has been a big help.

With a stronger brand we'll have a better and bigger cause marketing program. I know of causes that raise a lot of money that don't have well known brands. But I don't know of any causes that are successful in cause marketing that aren't also well known brands. Do you?

How is your cause building its brand? What challenges have you faced? Who in the nonprofit world do you admire for their brand? Are they doing cause marketing?