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Is It Time Now for More American Cause-Related Marketing Benefiting Overseas Causes?

Exporting Caring and Dollars

American Express’ Member’s Project, which will fund one member project to the tune of as much as $5 million based on the vote of American Express card holders, is now down to five finalists:

  • National Parks Foundation, for the repair and refurbishment of the 391 National Parks.

  • American Solar Energy Society to create a small solar-powered generating unit suitable for residential homes.

  • US Fund for UNICEF Children’s Safe Drinking Water initiative to deliver clean, pure water to children worldwide.

  •, a web-enabled way to match school needs with outsiders willing to help.

  • American Forests initiative called Plant a Million Trees, a global reforestation campaign to plant trees in the United States and around the globe.

For those of you keeping score at home, two out of five of those projects have truly global reach. And as of this writing, the UNICEF safe water campaign holds a commanding lead in advance of the August 7 deadline.

UNICEF’s lead may be a signal that it’s time for corporate cause marketers in the States to thoughtfully start considering cause marketing campaigns for charities that fulfill their mission and purpose outside the United States.

This would be a sea change.

Cause marketing stateside for overseas charities already happens to very a small degree. For instance, Proctor and Gamble’s Pur unit, which sells water purification devices and filters, has a cause campaign that supports water treatment efforts in Kenya and elsewhere. And, in the U.K. in particular, cause marketing for non domestic causes is already commonplace. The massive Red Nose campaign earmarks 60 percent of its funds raised for relief in Africa.

I say all this fully aware that the Member’s Project is an imperfect predictor of any kind of change in attitudes:

  • American Express card holders may be more inclined to support non-domestic causes.

  • Because participating Amex card holders are a self-selecting, it could be that the principle participants are the types that would vote for UNICEF.

  • It could be that the domestic projects were not as compellingly presented as UNICEF’s.

  • Moreover, there’s a ‘mad money’ aspect to the Member’s Project promotion and participating card holders may be more willing to take a flyer with someone else’s money that they wouldn’t with their own.

But while Member’s Project may not be a predictor, I think it is an indicator that the tenor of the times in American philanthropy and cause-related marketing is changing.

Certainly, there are other indicators. Angelina Jolie is nearly nominated for beatification in the July Esquire magazine article, “Angelina Jolie Dies for Our Sins” mainly on account of her work for AIDS orphans in Africa, Asian tiger habitat restoration in Cambodia, and a host of other Third World causes.

The July Business 2.0 highlighted the work of four organizations… MBA Enterprise Corps, MBAs without Borders, Carana, and DAI… that send out freshly-minted MBAs to apply their training to real-world situations in real-world places like West Africa, the Balkans, Latin America, and Ghana.

Not many years ago public-minded MBAs might have done their service at local United Ways or the Cancer Society. Nowadays they go to Nigeria and conduct focus groups on what it would take to get the locals using mosquito netting again. (Turns out it’s colored netting made cool again by the Nigerian film industry)!

I’ve written before about cause marketing in the First World to serve people in the Third World and frankly worked hard at hedging my bets about whether it could be effective.

But increasing it looks to me like it can.


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