Minus the Mighty Bat of Cause Marketing, “Run to Home Base” is Stranded on First

Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation are doing a great thing: they’ve teamed up to put on a road race to help soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat stress disorders and/or traumatic brain injury.

But this isn't just any road race. The finish line of this 9K is one of the most hallowed places after the Tombs of the Unknown (at least for a New Englander): home plate at Fenway Park.

This event will be a huge success, flawlessly executed (Dave McGillvray is the race director. He organizes another little run in town called the Boston Marathon.), be a ton of fun and raise lots of money (runners have to raise a minimum of $1,000 to participate).

But it’s missing one glaring thing: yep, you guessed it, cause marketing.

There's a section on the Run for Home Base web site on becoming a corporate sponsor of the run. But really, could you find an event with better bones for a cause marketing pitch than this one?

  • Last time I checked it was still popular to wave the flag. And what better way for a company to share its patriotic values than supporting the mentally scarred troops that are fighting to protect us.
  • The event involves Boston’s beloved home town team and a hallowed shrine, Fenway Park.
  • Mass General is one of the greatest hospitals on the planet. If we’re judged by the company we keep, you couldn’t do better than hanging out with MGH.

So where are the cause marketing partnerships for Run to Home Base? I’m not sure, but this is what they’re missing out on.

Money. A simple point-of-sale or percentage-of-sale program with a retailer--like the one we just finished with Ocean State Job Lots--could bring in hundreds of thousand of additional dollars to support the cause.

Promotion. A popular run like this will probably sellout early anyway, but it's still a first year event and the recruitment of top fundraisers might have benefited from some in-store promotion. Pinups are a great way to promote a run, walk or ride. Our surveys for Halloween Town show that year after year many attendees learned about the event from a pinup they bought at iParty stores.

Education. This may be the real lost opportunity. Regardless of whether shoppers buy a pinup or sign-up for the race, in-store visibility of the Home Base Program increases the chances that someone who either needs its services or knows someone who does, will get the information he or she needs.

Virtual Success. A growing area of focus for run, walk, ride fundraisers is recruiting people who can't run, walk or ride the event but still want to participate beyond just making a donation. Cause marketing is a great way to recruit and activate these participants. Not to mention the crossover with location-based social media that could further enhance a program or inaugurate a "retail race."

Professional Sports Team Foundations & Cause Marketing

A good question I often get about cause marketing is that when dealing with the nonprofits arms of professional sports teams can causes expect to benefit from a sports team's many corporate sponsors.

Don't count on it.

In my experience, the sports teams won't go for it. (This might explain why Run to Home Base organizers don't have any cause marketing partners, or any corporate sponsors for that matter, despite having some easy targets in the Red Sox outfield.)

The reason is probably simple: sports teams don’t want nonprofits mucking up their lucrative corporate deals. Although I’ve argued--to deaf ears up to this point--that asking an existing corporate sponsor of the team to do a cause marketing program is something that's totally different from a corporate sponsorship.

No interference. Selling a cause marketing package doesn’t interfere with the corporate sponsorship because it doesn't supplant any existing benefits from the team. Cause marketing has different assets, benefits and outcomes.

Cause marketing offers something unique. I'm not a sports marketing expert but its seems like team sponsorships, among others things, deliver great visibility for a corporate sponsor. And while consumers undoubtedly feel positively about a company’s connection with a team like the Boston Celtics, sports sponsorships don't build the social capital cause marketing does. Again, cause marketing doesn't threaten a team's pact with a company. And it just might deepen a company's relationship with a sports team. That's what cause marketing does.

Cause marketing taps a separate pool of money. A company purchases a sports sponsorship with their checkbook, but cause marketing is executed at the register and ultimately comes from the generosity of customers. The company just handles the money. Moreover, cause marketing can only be executed in support of a cause, not for personal profit. In short, it’s not like the sports team could have used cause marketing to underwrite a company sponsorship of the jumbotron.

The Run for Home Base will almost certainly be a winner for those struggling with combat stress disorder. The event has lots of good hitters to ensure its success. But organizers have left a star hitter, cause marketing, sitting on the bench. And for that no will know how many more runs could have been scored for U. S. soldiers.