The Starbucks Guide to Cutting Edge Cause Marketing

Today I checked a fun goal off my bucket list. Not only did I get to visit Starbucks Headquarters in Seattle, Washington, but I also got to talk about cause marketing to a group of corporate contribution professionals from some of the best companies in the country. It was all part of ACCP's Corporate Contribution Academy.

Carrie O'Neill, Newtonville Starbucks

Carrie O'Neill, Newtonville Starbucks

As many of you know, my love for Starbucks is almost as strong as my love for Boston! (If only they were Boston-based!) Starbucks has always been my place to blog, to write books and to meet new people. I wrote so much of my third book at Starbucks that I included Carrie O'Neill, the manager of the Starbucks in Newtonville, Massachusetts, in the dedication page of my book.

It was well deserved. Besides giving me a nice place to work and filling me with caffeine, Carrie helped with little things, like fast repairs of the store's wifi.

Of course, I've always admired Starbucks' commitment to innovation, social good and cause marketing.

Like cause marketing, my partnership with Starbucks has always been win-win. So it was exciting to visit the mothership in Seattle to talk about cutting edge cause marketing at a company that has had so many innovative campaigns.

In addition to my blog, you can see plenty more examples of cause marketing - from Starbucks and others - on my Pinterest boards.

starbucks cause marketing

Point-of-Sale 2.0


Point-of-sale has been around for decades. And while its death has been reported many times, POS is still raking in the dough. The key is that companies and nonprofits continue to innovate their POS practices.

Starbucks offers a great example of POS 2.0 with its Let's Create Jobs for USA campaign. For a five dollar donation, customers received a solidarity bracelet to show our support. I wore mine for almost a year!

Here are a few other campaigns that have graduated to POS 2.0.

  • In this episode of CauseTalk Radio, GameStop's Matt Hodges talks about how he educated and engaged front-line employees and district managers in charitable programs. This includes appointing a regional ambassador to steward GameStop's corporate responsibility programs.
  • Companies and nonprofits have embraced incentives to motivate employees and reward customers. Free stuff, matches, coupons and discounts have given POS programs a second-life with consumers. Just look at how Shake Shack has used free shakes to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for No Kid Hungry.  
  • Companies are tapping technology to make the giving process easier, faster and safer for consumers. Gone are the days when cashiers would stuff a dollar donation into an envelope next to the register. Barcodes, pinpads and modern point of sale systems make it easy for customers to give and for companies to track donations. In this post, Kmart explains how its updated POS system helped them raise $22 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
  • Companies have gotten more creative in how they integrate POS with other activities. For example, In addition to raising money at the register for the American Cancer Society, craft store chain A.C. Moore is challenging people this October to share a photo of themselves in a pink tutu to raise funds for ACS. For each tutu selfie posted on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #Not2Tough2Tutu the A.C. Moore Foundation will donate one dollar, up to $25,000, to ACS. 

One of the masters of POS fundraising is Children's Miracle Network. They're approach is nothing short of cutting-edge. Hear for yourself in this CauseTalk Radio interview with Clark Sweat, Chief Corporate Partnership Officer, at CMN.


I've bet you've heard of newsjacking but not causejacking. Regardless, let me explain what they both are and how they differ.

Newsjacking, according to my friends at Media Cause, is the art of injecting your ideas into breaking stories to generate media coverage and social media engagement. Like anything, newsjacking can be both good and bad.

A good example is when the lights went out at the Superbowl and the folks at Nabisco produced this ad for Oreos and stole the show. A bad example of newsjacking is when these brands trivialized a national day of mourning.

Causejacking is when a brand rides the wave of a cause's popularity to support its mission AND/OR to further its own prospects for success. 

A good example is when at the height of the Ice Bucket Challenge-mania in the summer of 2014, New England convenience store chain Cumberland Farms jumped at the chance to support the fight against ALS and earn karma points with customers and employees.

Cumberland Farms donated 20 cents from every bag of ice sold in its 600 stores to the ALS Association. (I liked this promotion so much I added it to my best cause marketing promotions of 2014!)

Whether you call Starbucks' Race Together - the coffee giant's effort to start a conversation about our troubled race relations - newsjacking or causejacking, I'm not sure anyone would call it a success. The promotion had plenty of critics!

Still, as cause marketer Phil Haid points out in this post, "Rather than scowl at CEO Howard Schultz's bold attempt to further the race dialogue, we should admire his tenacity and modern corporate leadership."

I agree with Phil. I also believe that when used well, causejacking is a great strategy.

You can visit this page to see other examples of causejacking, including the example with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning I referenced in my presentation.


starbucks crowdfunding

What's your favorite crowdfunding platform? Imagine if you had asked that question ten years ago. You would have gotten lots of blank stares. But these days a lot of people would know exactly what you are talking about and could rattle off a bunch of their favorite platforms: GoFundMe, Booster, Kickstarter, Causecast, etc. 

It’s no secret that companies are keen on the societal and business benefits of supporting good causes. Companies like Panera Bread have made a major investment with Panera Care Cafes, restaurants designed to fight hunger in the communities they serve. Increasingly however, businesses are moving their social good efforts online where they can have a broader impact.

While not crowdfunding, Starbucks started crowdsourcing ideas from customers to improve their business back in 2008. My Starbucks Idea also collects suggestions on how the coffee giant could be more socially responsible. To date, the site has thousands of suggestions related to good practices.

A new iteration of crowdfunding is propriety platforms hosted by businesses.

In March 2014, DICK’s Sporting Goods and the DICK’s Sporting Goods Foundation announced a $25 million multi-year commitment to support youth athletic programs including donations to and sponsorships of local sports teams. At the same time, DICK’s Sporting Goods Foundation launched Sports Matter, a proprietary crowd-funding platform that lets youth sports teams raise money from supporters and earn a matching grant through its foundation.

184 teams joined the Crowdfunding program representing 35 states and 35 unique sports. They were offered support on how to use the online fundraising from GOODcorps and the teams raised more than $2 million in donations during the five-week fundraising campaign. With DICK’s Sporting Goods Foundation matching grants, $4.6 million reached youth sports teams facing severe financial challenges.

DICK’s success coupled with a deepening commitment from businesses to change the world will likely mean more propriety crowdfunding platforms that will use the success of Sports Matter to matter.

Social Fundraising

social fundraising

Traditional cause marketing tactics like donation boxes, charity pinups and percentage of sale programs have been around for decades.

More and more organizations are asking:

"How can we merge traditional cause marketing tactics with the explosive growth and potential of social fundraising (i.e. empowering one's supporters - particularly through social networks - to fundraise on behalf of a cause)?"

We only have to look back at the incredible success of last summer's Ice Bucket Challenge to see the power of social fundraising (i.e. Peer-to-peer fundraising), and what happens when you ignite it with social media.

Starbucks has experimented with social fundraising, specifically with Check-In for a Cause. In 2012, Starbucks donated $1 - up to $250,000 - for every check-in on the social network Foursquare.

(BTW, ZDNet had a great article today on Starbuck's digital transformation that's definitely worth a read. Look for digital to play a key role for Starbucks in future cause-related campaigns.).

One company that is succeeding in melding social fundraising with cause marketing is Boston-based Booster, a social fundraising platform where you can support your favorite cause by selling T-shirts you design and sell through social networks.

Booster launched its first campaign in 2013. To date, They’ve launched over 100,000 "Boosters" and raised over $13 million for causes across the United States. 

To raise money for No Kid Hungry, Denny's launched a Booster in conjunction with its annual charity pinup program. Donations to the program spiked 30 percent and Denny's sold 18,000 t-shirts. You can read more about the fundraiser here.

Content Marketing

purpose driven content marketing

Content marketing is telling without selling. Instead of using traditional marketing to sell a product or service, content marketing sells the idea of your product or service.

For example, Starbucks announced earlier this year that it was starting its own social documentary company.

What the heck does a media company have to do with coffee? NOTHING! But it has everything to do with the identity that Starbucks wants to project to its customers and to the world.

The same is true with Howard Schultz's 2014 book For Love of Country, which looked at the contribution veterans have made on and off the battlefield.

Starbucks and other companies like it view themselves more as publishers than marketers.

In my presentation, I referenced three companies right in Starbucks' backyard of Oregon that were using purpose-driven cause marketing with great success.

The first was Dave’s Killer Bread.

The bread company’s founder, Dave Dahl, spent 15 years in prison before founding the brand, which has grown to over $50 million in sales and employs 300 people. Dave never forgot where he came from and the chance he got to go straight. That’s why 30% of Dave’s employees have criminal backgrounds.

Eager for other companies to adopt their smart and compassionate practices, Dave’s hosts an annual Second Chance Summit for local companies. Nationally, Dave’s is creating a Second Chance Playbook to share with businesses.

The second was Columbia Sportswear

Columbia realized that content marketing could help them connect with Millennials of all backgrounds.
Columbia Sportswear, REI and National Park Foundation teamed up for Find Your Park, which took Latino bloggers on a week-long excursion to a national park. The result: 60 million media impressions!

The last was Cart-Away Concrete.

To improve concrete practices in third-world countries, the company developed a special mixer priced for foreign markets. They also sponsored a symposium of academic and business experts to discuss ways to improve the quality of concrete and its supply chains. 

To learn how content marketing can drive the success I suggest you pick up Joe Pulizzi's new book Content Inc. It's a must read!

Cause Products

cause products

It’s easy to confuse a cause-related product with a cause product. But as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug!”

A cause-related product is an ordinary product that business temporarily use to support a cause. For example, when you buy a Dairy Queen Blizzard on Miracle Treat Day, DQ will donate the proceeds to the Children’s Miracle Network. The day after they’ll still be selling Blizzards—thank goodness!—but not to benefit a cause.

On the other hand, a cause product is made specifically to benefit a cause. For example, Starbucks has sold specialty-made glasses, tumblers, mugs and ornaments to benefit Product (RED) for years. 

A variation of cause products are signature cause products. Kitschy is the best word to distinguish a signature cause product from a traditional cause product. The product is iconic, and created primarily for fans of the brand.

For example, Firehouse Subs is well known for its pickles and the five-gallon buckets they come in. Fans of the chain love these buckets and use the old ones for gardening, painting, storage, and so forth. Firehouse sells the buckets for $2 each with all proceeds benefiting Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation

Cause Marketing Lessons from Starbucks

cause marketing lessons