Earlier this month I had a great time speaking at the annual New England Association for Healthcare Philanthropy Conference on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. (Well, great until the final day when I slipped on a jetty on the beach and messed up my leg. But that's another matter!).
The conference included a great group of healthcare professionals who posed a simple question to me: As local nonprofits restricted to fundraising in a specific town or region, what's the best way to use cause marketing?
The Challenge of Local Cause Marketing
It's challenging to do cause marketing at the local level for two reasons.
First, geography is definitely an issue. If you're a hospital that serves a particular community, there are only so many businesses in a given area. When I worked at a Boston hospital, 90 percent of the dollars I raised came from businesses within the Route 128 belt (highlighted by the red line on the map below).
Fewer businesses means fewer opportunities for cause marketing partnerships.
Second, it's not enough to have a large pool of businesses to target. They have to be the right type of businesses (i. e. retailers, supermarkets, restaurants, convenience stores, preferably with lots of locations and foot traffic).
Only these types of businesses have the potential to raise six-figures from the point-of-sale programs shown in the top right quadrant of the Cause Marketing Matrix.
Can you raise money with the tactics in the three other quadrants? Sure. But it's harder and you're unlikely to raise six-figures with a local program.
Some of you may be wondering: What about focusing on traditional corporate giving AND cause marketing? Won't it help if I spread my net wider with companies?
The average return on corporate giving is terrible. On average, companies donate just 0.8 percent of one percent of their pre-tax earnings to nonprofits. Of all the main sources of philanthropic giving, gifts from companies come in dead last.
Cause marketing doesn't build Success. it Builds On It.
In all my years in cause marketing I've learned that cause marketing doesn't build success. It reflects it. If you're organization is struggling, your cause marketing will struggle. If you're nonprofit is booming, cause marketing is great way to grow your success.
Cause marketing is many things, but it's not a life raft for a sinking organization. Like the door Jack clung to in the movie Titanic, cause marketing just isn't strong enough to keep you afloat.
Take the example of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
St. Jude isn't successful because of cause marketing. They built their cause marketing success on an already successful brand. The same is true of any organization that is (or has) raised a lot of money from cause marketing.
Take your pick: Make-A-Wish, Livestrong, No Kid Hungry, Komen, Autism Speaks, Feeding America, Wounded Warriors. Cause marketing was a byproduct of their success, not the driver.
The only exception may be Product RED. But as a pure play cause marketing platform, RED is different. It had enormous star-power and visibility that made it a top philanthropic brand almost immediately. Good for them, but don't expect the same to happen to you.
Local nonprofits need a better strategy for raising money than cause marketing. They need something that will raise all their boats, and not just the corporate one - which is more of a dinghy than a boat!
Stop Focusing on Cause Marketing. Start Building Your Brand
Over the past couple of years I've had a clear message for nonprofits. Stop focusing on cause marketing. In general, nonprofits are TOO focused on fundraising, and not enough on the things that drive cause marketing and fundraising success.
One of those things that drive your success is your brand.
I've talked about this before. According to Jeff Brooks a nonprofit brand is built on two things:
1. Having an impact - meaning your nonprofit is making a real difference in the community.
2. Communicating that impact clearly and powerfully.
While most nonprofits are having an impact, they are seriously lagging on #2.
Here's how to change that.
The Case for Inbound & Content Marketing
Even if nonprofits agree with the need to build their brand, they're not clear on what it means to communicate that impact. "Are you talking about buying ads on radio or TV or something?" they ask.
The days of Outbound Marketing - or just pushing yourself on supporters - with mass media are waning, Outbound marketing is especially irrelevant for nonprofits who don't have the money to run expensive ads any way!
Two better options are Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing.
Warning: I'm not sure Brian Halligan at Hubspot would approve of my description of Inbound Marketing. I think he would say it's too general. It would be hard to argue with him. After all, Hubspot did coin the term inbound marketing. Sorry, Brian!
Conversely, I don't think Joe Pulizzi at the Content Marketing Institute would like how I describe content marketing. I think he would say my definition is too narrow and what I am really talking about is a Content Brand.
But before you rat me out to Brian and Joe, hear me out on why I came up with my own definitions of inbound and content marketing. Most people don't know what the difference is between the two terms, especially in the nonprofit world. My goal was to offer nonprofits two distinct strategies.
The first step in treating any problem is to first acknowledge that you have a problem. Nonprofits have an issue: they prioritize fundraising - including dollars that can be raised from cause marketing - above everything else.
But fundraising is an end not a means. Your fundraising success is directly correlated to your success as a brand. In short, you should focus on building your brand, not fundraising.
Remember what I told you earlier: your brand is your impact and your communication of that impact. And the best way to communicate that impact are inbound and content marketing. Frankly, it's easier to get started with inbound marketing, as content marketing is a more advanced strategy for nonprofits that recognize the value of being a "publisher."
Like businesses, nonprofits have been pushing for so long they don't know what to make of a strategy that tells them to pull in supporters instead. However, when done well, inbound and content marketing will build a better, stronger and fuller pipeline of donors.
But it takes trust, teamwork, commitment and patience. It's like building a pipeline from the world to your nonprofit and squirming a bit while you wait for money to come flowing in.
But I'm convinced that if you build it, they will come. And the money won't just come from businesses. It will come from everyone.