Let's Clear Out This Cause Marketing Logjam

Suppose you’re a small entrepreneur with a generous impulse and you want to offer sponsorship dollars to one or more charities, especially prominent ones. How would that phone call or email go?

Karma52, an cause-based apparel company, is finding it tough going.

That’s because the biggest causes ask for (and get) large upfront commitments from would-be sponsors. They require such commitments as a kind of qualifier. If you can’t afford a cause's upfront, for instance, then it can assume that you’re not a likely partner. Moreover, causes are rightly concerned that they risk their brand by getting involved with a sponsor that is either a bad match, a dishonest operator, or worse.

But in their caution, causes are leaving money on the table. The Fortune 1000 has largely been picked through by causes. Most of the large companies are either already doing cause marketing or it doesn’t make sense for them. The future growth of cause marketing for causes will be with smaller companies. 

Karma52’s business model is like Threadless.com. Launching in the second quarter of 2013, Karma52 will create original artwork representative of a cause, one per week. Karma52 will put the design on T-shirts and other apparel and merchandise, and then give a portion of sales to the cause.

“Thus,” says Karma52’s promotional materials, “good karma goes back to a country that has been good to them, and they reap good karma manifold for giving. The opportunity for good karma occurs 52 weeks every year, and 52 worthy national causes are helped. By wearing Karma52 apparel, customers wear their good karma!”

Karma52 asks potential partners for no cash, only the ability to use the cause’s logo and feature the designs in an online gallery. Karma52 certainly also hopes that the cause will activate the sponsorship via PR and online.  But, so far, American causes haven’t responded well.

Instead, says Karma52, “most organizations are requiring a specific dollar amount to be pledged, or one year in business, or need to discuss with their board and then never get back to us…  Ironically, if we donate to non-USA causes, they are quick and thankful to agree. However, our preference is to give back to our country and its inhabitants by supporting American causes.”

In effect, we have a kind of Catch-22 in place for Karma52 and other such social enterprises. They can’t afford the upfront donations or commitments, and their business model requires that they have relationships with multiple causes.

Over the years I’ve heard a number of such stories from entrepreneurs and other enterprising companies.

I think there’s room for some sort of mechanism… or an intermediary… whereby small companies could engage with charities, big and small, without putting the cause at risk or requiring unlikely commitments from putative sponsors. There's an answer to this dilemma, but to my knowledge it just hasn't been developed yet.

Until then, the logjam can only be cleared if someone extends a little trust.

If your cause would like to partner with Karma52, contact help@karma52.org, hila@karma52.org, or keith@karma52.org. The phone number is: 657-212-5423.

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