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Marketing For Just Cause

by Harry Hoover

Editor's Note: Although this article is written from a for profits point of view those of us in the nonprofit sector can reverse engineer the thinking to find business partners.

Cause marketing is a relationship between a for-profit and a nonprofit that brings in money and resources for the nonprofit, while providing credibility and goodwill for the business.

According to the IEG Sponsorship Report, this category grew to $733 million in the US in 2001. There are a number of reasons for that growth. A Cone Communications survey found that:

  • 80 percent of Americans have a more positive image of companies that support a cause they care about

  • nearly two-thirds of Americans say they would likely switch brands or retailers to one associated with a good cause

  • more than half said they would pay more for a cause marketer’s products or services

  • 87 percent of employees at organizations with a cause marketing program feel a strong sense of loyalty to their company as opposed to 67 percent of those at companies that do not support causes

As you can see, adopting good causes can be beneficial, but your company’s involvement should be planned just as you plan any other business activity. Here are five steps to developing an effective cause marketing program.

Choose Your Cause Strategically. Search for a single charitable cause that you and your employees can believe in, as well as one that helps advance your business objectives. For instance, a company may choose an educational cause to ensure it has a continuing pool of well-educated workers. Many companies seek issues that align with their products, services or geographic service area. Others look for issues that resonate with niche audiences or that differentiate them in the marketplace. You may want to consider choosing an emerging issue. This way, your company will be a pioneer rather than just another in a list of companies.

Perform Due Diligence. Once you have identified the cause, check out the individual charities involved in that cause just as you would any other strategic ally. Do they deserve your support? What is their public perception? Are they well run? What are their objectives, goals, successes and failures? Who are their executives and board members? Do they have any complaints lodged against them? How much of their money goes to salaries and overhead and how much actually gets to those it serves? Are they capable of helping you access intended target markets? Below is a link to a site that helps you evaluate charities.

Establish Goals. Now that you have selected your charity, determine what it is you want to accomplish with your involvement from a business perspective. There are tangible and intangible goals you can reach through cause marketing. Are you looking for networking opportunities at the board or donor level? Do you want to raise your business’ profile through publicity about your involvement? Are you trying to build employee or customer loyalty? Or, do you just want to shore up support in your home community? Set your goals and then you can determine what resources, both time and money, to budget for the cause.

Dive In. Although writing a check to the cause will help, this should not be the extent of your participation. Choose a single cause and maintain a focused campaign that integrates the cause into the very fabric of your organization. Look at other ways to expand your involvement. Serve on the board. Become a volunteer for your selected cause. Encourage employees to get involved in projects with the selected charity. Give them a “charitable time” budget each month that lets them use business hours to perform their service with your chosen cause. Strategic allies and even customers may want to be involved if you have selected your cause wisely.

Communicate. Develop a simple, direct and compelling message that not only explains the cause but the reason your company is involved. Explain how purchases – if part of the program – are directed into the cause and how that contribution will affect it. Then, promote the cause in customer mailings and in your advertising. Create joint events with your nonprofit partner to attract customers, prospects and media coverage.

Selecting and supporting the right cause for your company can build profit, brand equity, as well as employee and customer loyalty, while improving the world. So, what could be better than that?


About the Author: Harry Hoover is managing principal of Hoover ink PR, He has 26 years of experience in crafting and delivering bottom line messages that ensure success for serious businesses like Brent Dees Financial Planning, Carolinas AGC, New World Mortgage, North Carolina Tourism, Ty Boyd Executive Learning Systems, VELUX and Verbatim.

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