Active vs. Passive Cause Marketing

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As a fan of pinup programs, especially for small nonprofits, I'm frequently asked how important the "ask" is at the register. The ask happens when you're checking out and and cashier says, "Would you like to donate a dollar to help _________?" To understand why the ask is so important to the success of a pinup program, you needn't look any further than the stores you visit everyday.

"Do you need batteries for that?"

"Would you like to try Via, our new instant coffee?"

"Would you like to supersize your meal?"

They ask because when they do you usually say yes and buy more. A lot more.

The same is true of pinups. The more you ask people to give a buck or two the more people will. I call this active cause marketing (ACM).

But ACM isn't for everyone. Some retailers see it as pestering the customer. An example here in eastern Massachusetts, and I limit it to my area because I really don't know what they do in other parts of the country, is Whole Foods. They practice what I call passive cause marketing (PCM). And for all the shortcomings of PCM, Whole Food does it pretty darn well.

They put the gift request in a can't-miss spot near the register where customers can decide for themselves if they want to contribute.

I ran across the Autism Special Education Center pinup program at my local Whole Foods in West Newton, Massachusetts. The pitch was in a great location. Right in my line of sight on the credit card machine where I swiped my card. All I had to do was pick the card for either the $2 or $5 donation and give it to the cashier who scanned it just like any other item.

While this approach won't raise as much money as an active pinup program, it's a hundred times better than most passive cause marketing programs I see. Usually the donation request is far beyond passive; it's hidden behind the gum in aisle three, or worse.

But let's not forget how much the type of customer that shops at Whole Foods contributes to the success of this PCM program. Their average shopper is affluent, educated and sophisticated (so far it hasn't rubbed off on me), which makes them more open and progressive about supporting causes they care about.

While this program was for autism, other PCM programs I've seen at the register are for food pantries, homeless shelters and especially "green" causes. Again, right in line with the interests and concerns of their yuppie shoppers.

I've never had success with passive cause marketing programs, but that's not because they didn't work. I didn't set realistic expectations for myself and was disappointed when they didn't raise as much money as ACMs. Now I know better.

To date, I also haven't worked with retailers with the kind of customers that are more responsive to PCM programs. I'll have to keep looking because Whole Foods in Massachusetts has already said no to doing a PCM for my cause.

Fortunately for me, there are a lot of other places to shop.

Countdown to Halloween Town: Charity Pinups to the People

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This pinup is our fifth and has been a close companion of the Halloween Town event since it began in 2005. Single handedly the charity pinup has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for my nonprofit! I've written before on the merits of pinup programs in general and Halloween Town's in particular. 

Before I give you some additional reading, I want to admit that I'm guilty of one heinous crime: not using one consistent name for charity pinup programs. I've called them point-of-sale, paper icons, mobiles, paper plaques and probably several other names. I'm trying to stick to "pinups" from now on, but you'll see these other names in the titles and posts I'll suggest to you. Forgive me.

For a primer on charity pinup programs read:

Never Heard of Paper Icons? Listen Up (Also includes a link to an excellent post on "paper icons" by Paul Jones over at the Cause-Related Marketing)

To read about the development of our Halloween Town pinup program the past few years, check out:

Countdown to Halloween Town: The Power of Pinups (2008 Program)

Countdown to Halloween Town: Mobile Madness (2007 Program)

Secrets of a Mobile Master (2006 Program)

We just don't do pinup programs in October. We do them throughout the year. Read about our most recent program here:

Phantom Gourmet Cooks-Up Cause Marketing Success

From reading these posts I think you'll agree that our Halloween Town pinup program has a lot of great advantages.

It's lucrative. This year we should top $800,000 raised since the program began in 2005 (at an expense of about 12 cents on the dollar).

Prospects can't say no to it. Because unlike other kinds of marketing they pay for, this one is free. They only need to give us access to their stores and to motivate their register clerks to ask the all-important question: "Would you like to donate a dollar to help a sick child?"

Partners love the added benefits. Our pinup programs aren't just glorified customer loyalty programs. We build them around multiple retailers--that offer valuable cross-promotion--and events, like Halloween Town that in 2008 had 15,000 guests. Retailers that sell pinups in their stores get a free sponsorship spot at Halloween Town that markets their product or service outside the "choir" to new converts.

It's powerful advertising. We've never spent much money advertising Halloween Town. We don't have to because the pinup does most of the promoting for us. Surveys collected at the event show that in some years as many as 1 in 5 attendees said they heard about Halloween Town from the pinup.

This doesn't mean that pinup programs are easy to sell and are always home runs. They're not. But over the past five years, my team and I have learned from trial and error what works and what doesn't. We've boiled down all of our experiences, expertise and insights into a program that we hope to share with you just as soon as Halloween Town is over.

We've been successful AND lucky: six figure cause marketing has been a reality for us every year since 2005. And we're convinced it's not something unique to our nonprofit. Any nonprofit can do it if they are motivated, educated and in tune to the assets around them.

You can learn more about Six Figure Cause Marketing here.

Countdown to Halloween Town 2008

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Labor Day means a lot of things to people: end of summer, back to school and down to business at the office!  On my team for four years now Labor Day has meant just one thing: Halloween Town is right around the corner!

Halloween Town is our biggest cause marketing event of the year, which we could never accomplish without our longtime partner iParty.  I've blogged about it quite a bit. You can catch up on past posts by searching on "Halloween Town" in the upper right corner or by searching in "Cause Marketer's Journal" on the right sidebar.  You can also check out a brief promotional video here.

The skinny on the event for you newbies is that it's a huge two-day Halloween party for kids ten and under at Boston's Seaport World Trade Center, which is a 70,000 square foot facility.  Last year's event attracted 13,000 people.  The cause marketing connection comes from the many companies, mainly retailers, that participate in the event in two important ways.

First, leading up to the event retailers sell Halloween Town mobiles in their stores to raise money for our cause and to promote the event.  Second, they participate in the event by having their own Halloween-themed zone where they can promote their brand and connect with families.  A local supermarket chain, for instance, shipped in 10,000 pumpkins last year for kids to decorate and then have their picture taken by the retailer's antique delivery truck.

This year's event will have many of the same ingredients that have made previous years such a big success.  But with a challenging economy and our own ambitious goal to dramatically increase the money we net from the event, here are of the some of the areas we've focused on and invested in so we can make more money.

More partners, but fewer mobile partners.  Retailers are struggling so it's no surprise that we have fewer point-of-sale partners than last year.  It's too bad, because as I've written before, these programs are efficient, effective and lucrative.  To make up for the shortfall, the sales team here has focused on smaller sponsorships of $5,000 or less.  Because Halloween Town has grown so dramatically the past few years and the demographic is so desirable (the four-eyed, four-legged monster, as we like to call it: mothers with kids) we actually have been able to attract a number of good companies in search of sampling and marketing opportunities.  To date, sponsorship revenues are up over 30 percent compared to last year.  And since these marketing partnerships are turnkey, there's a good chance we'll close several more before over the next several weeks.  These smaller sponsorships don't totally make up for the loss of mobile partners--one of which was worth nearly $100k--but they do help.

Maximizing the mobiles partners we do have.  For those excellent mobile partners we do have, we're spending more time figuring out how we can maximize the money they raise for us in their stores.  Regardless of how successful the program is, compliance is always a challenge.  Not every register clerk is asking that all-important question: "Do you want to donate a dollar to help a sick child?".  To increase employee participation in the program, we've reviewed our incentive program to make sure that it motivates employees to participate.  We've scheduled more kick-offs at area stores so that we can educate employees about the mission of our organization and to thank them in person for their efforts.  Perhaps, most importantly, we plan to work more closely with store managers to give them the tools and support they need to ensure the success of the program in their stores.  

Drive traffic with premium entertainment.  One thing we learned from past Halloween Towns is that people will really turn out for celebrities and quality entertainment.  We saw it two years ago when adoring young mothers came out to see Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and the following year when tweens came out to hear local pop group Girl Authority.  Both of these acts came at no cost to us, but this year we decided to invest in entertainment that we hope will drive traffic to the gate.  We chose musician Dan Zanes for several reasons.  He's well known to the kid demo thanks to appearances on Disney and Noggin.  He's also a New England native who sold out all of his New England appearances last year.  Finally, Dan is a good fit for our organization.  He truly cares about the underserved, immigrant population we serve and has released a CD in Spanish.  While Halloween Town has always attracted a great crowd--attendance last year was up 30 percent from the year before--the World Trade Center at which it is held is a huge facility and can accommodate many, many more people and we want to take full advantage of that.  We think Dan is an entertainer that can help us pack the house.

Charging for things that use to be free.  For the past couple years of Halloween Town we've taken special note of those activities that were always really popular with visitors.  The line for laser tag was always out the door.  Kids and parents alike loved the really fancy face painting that can make a three year old look like a cat or lion.  And we use to give these things away!  People paid one admission price and just about everything inside was free.  This year we'll experiment with charging for some activities in hopes of raising more money (face painting) and to helping with crowd control (laser tag).  The result should be a better, more successful event.