Getting Started with Cause Marketing, Easy as 1-2-3


Photo by EgoAnt

I’m really exciting to be writing for Mightycause. It’s a great organization with an ambitious blog that has at least two regular writers for whom I have a ton of respect: John Haydon and Geoff Livingston.

This is my first official post for Mightycause (although I unofficially joined the blogging team last week with this post). But I’m no newbie to blogging. I’ve been writing and blogging regularly since 2004. The latter at my own blog, which shows businesses and nonprofits how to use cause marketing and social media to establish, grow and deepen relationships with stakeholders. I’ve also written for The Huffington PostForbesMediapost, The Nonprofit Quarterly and many others.

I like to think of myself as the Pied Piper of cause marketing and social media for small organizations that are just getting started, and may be intimidated by bigger brands that are raking in the big bucks.

I bet you know more about social media than cause marketing so here’s my definition of the latter.

Cause marketing is a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit for mutual profit.

Cause marketing is win-win. The nonprofit raises money and builds awareness for its mission. For a business, cause marketing enhances its favorability with employees, customers and other stakeholders. The reward is more loyal stakeholders that “buy-in” to the company and boost the bottom-line.

Cause marketing has a lot of buzz in the nonprofit world right now. And with good reason. It’s a new source of revenue for most organizations, and it’s a heck of a lot more interesting than writing grants and running the annual fund.

The number one question I get from nonprofits about cause marketing is how to get started. Fortunately, it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

Step #1: Uncover Your Assets

Remember how I said earlier that cause marketing is win-win because both partners benefit from it? Well, mutual benefit doesn’t happen by itself, unfortunately. It needs to be detected, mined and molded. It all starts by uncovering a little gold.

The gold in cause marketing is having something that businesses will value.

Does your nonprofit have a strong brand that has wide and deep awareness in your service area? Eureka, you’ve hit gold!

Does your nonprofit have a strong emotional message that will resonate with businesses and consumers? Congratulations, the miners of forty-niner would be proud of you!

Does your nonprofit have a large event that caters to a powerful customer demographic (e. g. women, moms) or an affluent one? No one will mistake that for fool’s gold!

What gold can you find? Most nonprofits don’t have to look very hard for it. It’s usually right under their feet. Truthfully, it’s not so much found as as it is detected.

Make a list of these assets so you know what you have to offer.

Step #2: Identify a Partner

I’m often asked what’s the best kind of partner for cause marketing. “The one you have,” I reply. Partners can also be assets, meaning they already support you in some way (e.g. sponsorship, CEO gift, etc.). You just need to adapt the relationship for cause marketing.

If you don’t have a natural partner, you’ll need to lean more on your assets to find the right company. Here’s what to look for: consumer facing companies (e. g. department stores, restaurants, supermarkets) with as many locations and as much foot traffic as possible. Trust me on this one. More locations and traffic will raise you more money and increase your chances for a successful program.

Start by approaching companies with whom you’ve had a prior relationship and have supported your mission. If you come up empty-handed, focus on companies with whom you’ve had contact in some way. Having worked at several hospitals, I know firsthand that vendors are a great place to start. Or perhaps a member of your board does business with (or even lives next door to) a potential partner.

Finally, if all else fails, you can shop your assets to new companies (a.k.a cold calling). For example, I used to run a Halloween event in Boston that drew a large, lucrative demographic that businesses love: mothers with kids. I identified companies that targeted this demographic and soon added a chain of family restaurants and fast lube centers as partners.

If you’ve done a good job identifying and leveraging your assets, you’ll eventually land a good cause marketing partner. This leads to the second most popular question I get from nonprofits: “Now that I have a partner . . . well, what do I do with them?”

Step #3: Pick a Program

There are many types of cause marketing programs to choose from, but you should start with either a point-of-sale or a purchase-triggered donation program.

Point-of-sale happens at checkout when the shopper has his or her wallet out. It can range from something passive like a coin canister that beckons for their spare coins to paper pinups cashiers sell for a buck or two.

Purchase-triggered donations are products and services shoppers can buy from which a percentage or portion benefits a cause. On World Aids Day, for example, Starbucks donates five cents from every drink sold to Product RED to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.

If your nonprofit has a strong following on Facebook, you might try an action-triggered donation program. You get a donation every time a Facebook user “likes” your page . One of my favorite examples of Facebook cause marketing is this program between Massage Envy and Second Harvest Food Bank.

Also, check out this Facebook like promotion between IKEA and Save the Children. It has a slightly different twist to it.

All of these programs are relatively easy to execute and lucrative (national charities routinely raise millions with them). You can learn more about these programs at my blog or in my book, Cause Marketing for Dummies.

Transactional cause marketing that raises money and builds awareness for your nonprofit isn’t complicated when you break the process down into its most critical steps. After knowing what cause marketing is, you need to understand what you have that companies want and leverage these assets to recruit a partner. Finally, you need to choose a cause marketing program that fits with the partnership and raises the most money.

I’ll be talking a lot more about cause marketing in my Tuesday posts for Mightycause. Leave a comment if you have any specific cause marketing questions you want me to answer.