How Being a Grinch Can Raise More Money for Your Nonprofit


Regardless of what industry you work in, we all have competitors.

Even nonprofits compete against each other for donations. In my hometown of Boston, charities compete against The Jimmy Fund, Children’s Hospital Boston, and the Museum of Science, among others. Nonprofits are also competing against a whole slew national charities. They range from Komen for the Cure to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to Children’s Miracle Network.

Years ago I learned that it’s always easier to sell someone something if they had bought one before. When I worked at public television in Boston it was hard to sell underwriting (public T.V.’s fancy word for advertising) to a business that had never bought advertising. They were as uninterested in underwriting as they were in advertising. But a business that was spending good money on print, radio, and television understood the value of advertising and underwriting was an easier sell.

The same is true of cause marketing. It’s much easier to convince a business to try a register program or cause product if it’s already working with a cause. Of course, what they may not be getting is the full potential of the cause marketing program. That’s when—Grinch-like—you stroll into town.

Here are a four ways to be crafty like the Grinch and raise more money for your organization.

No real commitment to a current partner.

I always ask a business how they came to work with their current nonprofit partner. At least half don’t have any good reason to work with their current cause except that they always have. The cause may have been a leftover from a previous owner. Or maybe it was the only cause that ever approached them. I hear this a lot about MDA Shamrocks. They’ve been around for decades and businesses just do them year after year.

No enthusiasm for the program.

In this case you don’t need to speak with anyone. Just look around. Are there stacks of unsold pinups at the register that the cashier is expecting consumers to magically snap up and say “Can I buy one of these?” We all know it doesn’t work that way. Neither will hiding coin canisters behind the rest of the “counter clutter,” or displaying cause products on the bottom shelf. Nothing is accomplished without enthusiasm. Use your enthusiasm to show the business owner a better way to execute cause marketing programs.

No local activation.

You know I love register programs, but causes that don’t tie these programs to events, sponsorships and social media are not realizing their full potential. Business owners understand this and it partly explain their reluctance to sign on for register programs: they’re in-store programs that target existing customers. Linking register programs to events, for instance, broadens the appeal for sponsors and delivers a much larger audience of prospective customers.

No year-long program.

It’s not uncommon to see businesses executing cause marketing programs for two or three weeks each year. But few have year long programs. If a business is hosting a program for St. Jude in December, you should ask what they are doing the rest of the year?

There’s room for a business to support more than one cause, or to support one cause more than once a year. As a cause, you need to take heart that introducing yourself to businesses that already have partners is good for your cause and probably for the business.

No business should be working with a cause that isn’t meaningful to them, stirs no enthusiasm or delivers a cause marketing program without breadth and depth. Why should a business settle for a cause with a heart two sizes too small?

Joe Waters blogs at