How to Find a Charity Partner for a CRM Campaign

The 411 on Locating a Cause Right for Your Company

Suppose you’re a community-minded company and you’re considering launching a cause-related marketing campaign, but in a world of causes, no cause is much more appealing than the next. Who do you partner with?

This question came to me while I was looking at the back of a bottle of 505 Southwestern Organic Green Chile Sauce. 505’s sauces are certified USDA Organic, which means according to 505 Southwestern’s website that it contains at least “95 percent organically produced ingredients.”

While the organic seal caught my eye, so too did the little pink ribbon, emblematic in the States of the breast cancer causes. 505 Southwestern gives a “portion of every sale” to the fight against breast cancer. Regular readers know how critical I am of that language. Last year 505 Southwestern generated $35,000 for breast cancer research.

Given their sensitivity to organic products, why did 505 Southwestern choose breast cancer for its cause-related marketing, instead of a cause that supports family farms, say, or rainforest protection or the Nature Conservancy?

Again, from the website, company founders do it in memory of their mother, Stella Solomon.

For years the conventional wisdom has been that you choose a cause based on ‘strategic philanthropy.’ If you’re an oil company, you pick environmental causes. If you make ladies purses, you pick women’s causes. If you sell toys, you pick children’s causes. If you’re a restaurant, you pick hunger causes. So far so good, right?

But what if you sell automobiles, or tattoos, or make non-organic chile sauces?

Here’s how I’d approach it.

First, decide what you need and want from a relationship with a cause. Is it publicity? Is it a sales bounce? Is it warm fuzzies? If it’s a combination, decide on the proportion of each. The big causes can do a lot of you. They can provide celebrities, they can help produce events, they can help generate publicity. But far fewer small charities will be able to offer the same menu of benefits. Also, bear in mind that the large charities will probably require you to pledge certain minimum donations before serious benefits start to flow. Send one of these big outfits a check for $10,000 and you’ll likely get little more than a nice letter of thanks.

Second, find out what you as a company are passionate about. Survey your employees or conduct focus groups or, better, do both. Find out who employees give their money and time to. Of those, time is the most telling factor. In the States, according to the Independent Sector, people who volunteer are 2.27 times more generous with their money than people who don’t. Meaning that volunteers give both more time and more money than people who donate only money.

Third, survey customers or other key stakeholders. Your employees may be pretty fired up about a cause, but if you expect customers, vendors or partners to generate all or some of the donation, you need to be sure that the cause resonates with them as well.

Fourth, determine if one cause can do all you need it to do. The foundations of most Fortune 500 companies in the United States give to hundreds or even thousands of charities so as to maximize goodwill, especially in local markets. That’s probably prudent. But when it comes to supporting a cause through a cause-related marketing campaign, I would generally argue that less is more. It’s too easy to dilute your message and your branding by having dozens of cause relationships. Proctor & Gamble manages to pull it off, but they have dozens of brands and a billion-dollar marketing budget. If you don’t, consider scaling back to no more than handful of charities that you can get behind and who can get behind you.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to post a comment either way.

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