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Cheat Sheet

Cause Marketing For Dummies

From Cause Marketing For Dummies by Joe Waters, Joanna MacDonald

Cause marketing is a partnership between a nonprofit and a for-profit for mutual profit. The profit in cause marketing comes in two forms. For the nonprofit, the profit is money and branding/visibility. For the for-profit, the profit is greater favorability with consumers and, potentially, increased sales. The premise is a simple one. Consumers buy from companies they like and respect. Cause marketing is a conduit to earning their favor.

How to Choose Your Cause Marketing Program

The tactics of cause marketing are one of the key things that distinguish it from other types of partnerships, such as sponsorship. Cause marketing starts with a company and a cause, and both partners benefit. The essence of a cause marketing program is win-win. If you don’t have a win-win program, you don’t have cause marketing.

Cause marketing programs comes in six common types:

  • Point-of-sale program: When a consumer is solicited at the register for a donation either by a cashier (called active cause marketing) or by signage that is prominently displayed to encourage the shopper to make a gift (passive cause marketing), it’s called point-of-sale. Pinups, coin canisters, and electronic donations via a register credit card machine are all forms of point-of-sale programs.

  • Purchase or action-triggered donation program: When a consumer buys a product or service and a donation is made to a cause, it’s a purchase-triggered donation. Alternatively, instead of a purchase, a donation is made when the consumer performs some type of action. For example, over the holidays, the department store chain Macy’s traditionally donates a dollar to the Make-a-Wish Foundation for every letter to Santa dropped into its special store letterboxes.

  • Licensing program: In a licensing program, a company pays a fee to use a nonprofit’s brand on its product. Licensing may include a certification process by the nonprofit before the company is allowed to use the logo. Because a cause needs major brand appeal to execute a licensing program, it’s generally practiced by larger causes with the marketing muscle and legal staff to roll out a professional program. Licensing is not a tactic for your average or local cause.

  • Message promotion program: In this type of program, a business puts its resources to work to promote a cause-focused message. For example, a company may have production and advertising resources to create and air a 30-second commercial, newspaper ad, or radio schedule for a cause partner.

  • Employee engagement program: In this program, a company leverages its workforce for social good. Companies don’t just want to give money and product to causes; they want to engage their employees in meaningful work that helps the cause and promotes customer loyalty.

  • Digital programs: The web, social media, and especially location-based services will dramatically impact cause marketing and change the way the other types of cause marketing program are executed. To leave out a digital program is to leave out the future of cause marketing and how cause and companies will partner in the years to come.

How to Find a Partner for Your Cause Marketing Program

Every cause marketing program needs a partner. People sometimes point to companies that have social missions (for example, TOM Shoes) and call them cause marketing. Others use the term to describe a nonprofit that runs its own business (for example, Goodwill’s retail stores). But without a partner, you don’t have cause marketing.

If you’re a cause looking for a business partner, here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the company support other causes? You may think you want to partner with a company that’s never worked with a cause. You’ll have them all to yourself! But that company probably doesn’t support causes for a reason: It doesn’t want to. Oftentimes, a company that supports causes is open to supporting more, especially when you’re bringing something new like cause marketing to the table. Go where you are wanted.

  • Is the company a “good” business? Causes engage in cause marketing to support their missions, not to hurt them. Partnering with a company that has a poor reputation in the community or questionable business practices only hurts your cause. Your cause needs cause marketing, not crisis communication.

  • Does your cause and the business share a natural connection? What’s a better fit for a toy store — a cause that supports children with HIV/AIDS or a local historical preservation group? When a cause and company’s mission intersect, it’s a perfect partnership!

If you’re a company in search of a cause to partner with, use these criteria:

  • A cause that gets it: Executing a cause marketing program with a cause that knows nothing about cause marketing is difficult. A good grasp of public relations and some experience with the marketing of causes, corporate philanthropy, and sponsorship can tip the scales to success.

  • A cause that understands technology and social media: Mobile and social media will play a key role in the future of the transactional cause marketing. To capitalize on the benefits cause marketing has to offer, choose a nonprofit that is proficient in social media.

  • A cause that isn’t cause-centric: It’s funny that some profess to be all about others but never stop talking about themselves. If your prospective nonprofit partner shows little interest in you and cares only about picking up a check, it’s best to look elsewhere.

How to Take Your Cause Marketing Program Online

The Internet, social media, and mobile devices are changing every aspect of society. It’s also changing the nature of how cause marketing programs are developed and executed. Online cause marketing programs tap a whole new set of tools for raising money and building awareness for cause and company brands.

Here are strategies to move your cause marketing from offline campaigns to digital ones:

  • Group-buying sites: While group buying sites like Groupon and Living Social are most commonly linked with selling products and services, they’ve also been shown to work for causes. The challenge with working with the key players is access. Most small nonprofits simply don’t have it. That’s why new group buying sites like GoodTwo give you a platform to combine cause with commerce and contacts.

  • Facebook Likes: Using Facebook Likes to raise money and awareness is a digital version of the action-triggered donation programs. The company agrees to make a donation for every Like it receives on either its or the nonprofit’s Facebook page.

  • Twitter hashtags: Hashtags (#) are kind of like bookmarks that allow people to easily find tweets around a particular issue or topic. You can use hashtags for cause marketing just like Facebook Likes. The company agrees to make a donation to the cause for every time the chosen hashtag is used on Twitter. One of the most successful hashtag fundraisers is #beatcancer, a partnership between PayPal and SWAGG to raise money for cancer charities, such as Stand Up to Cancer and Lance Armstrong Foundation. Since 2009, #beatcancer has raised nearly $100,000.

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