Fearless Predictions on the Future of Cause-Related Marketing

I have a spotty record predicting the future.

I bought a Zip drive about a week before the first USB drive came out. And then, admiring the portability of said USB drives I bought 2 of them with 56K of memory for about $50 a pop. I have two sets of the 1987 Topps baseball cards (which includes the rookie cards for Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire) still in the original shrink-wrap. They’re worth almost exactly what I paid for them. Or rather less, considering the ravages of inflation.

(I also have a first edition of Hayduke Lives by Edward Abbey that has doubled in value. So, I’m not always dead wrong.)

So imagine my surprise to get a short missive from Bay-area fundraising consultant Gayle Roberts asking me to weigh in on the topic of “Predicting the Future of Fundraising” for the September Giving Carnival.

But like all pundits, I’ve got an opinion no matter my history of accuracy!

That said, to paraphrase Abbey’s ‘warning’ at the front of Hayduke “Anyone who takes these predictions seriously will be shot. Anyone who does not take them seriously will be buried by a Mitsubishi bulldozer.”

Here then are my bold predictions on the future of cause-related marketing.

I predict that cause-related marketing will continue to grow in North America, if modestly. How’s that for wild-eyed caution? According to IEG cause-related marketing has hovered around 10 percent of the total of all sponsorship for the last decade. I don’t see anything in the near term that leads me to believe the practice is going to significantly break out of that range.

I predict eco cause marketing will become commonplace. There’s already some going on in North America. But cause-related marketing with an environmental theme remains more common in Europe than in Canada and the United States. That’s because the Europeans are about 18 months ahead of us on the issue. That said, most of the environmental cause-related marketing I see right now is complicated. Silk Soy recently used an old-school turn in a cap campaign. But instead of generating money, each cap represented wind power offsets. It took their whole website to explain it. Eco cause marketing will need to get simpler in order for it to really grow. Either that or main-street Americans are going to have to acquire a more sophisticated understanding of the ends and outs of carbon credits. I know which eventuality I’m betting on.

I predict North Americans will increasingly respond to cause-related marketing campaigns for foreign causes, especially in the Third World. Ten years ago a colleague and I were in the Washington D.C. office of a prominent international relief organization and we got absolutely abused by the head program officer over all the money we were raising with cause marketing for ‘fat cat’ children’s hospitals. “Why couldn’t cause marketing fund efforts in third world countries?” she asked us. Back then the answer was that she was too emotionally invested in her cause to see that Americans weren’t ready to redistribute their wealth through cause-related marketing. Now they are.

I predict that cause-related marketing will grow fastest in places like India. That’s because every week someone searches my blog using terms like “cause marketing, India,” or “cause-related marketing programmes in South Africa.”

I predict more local market CRM. It’s easy to look at the mega-campaigns from national brands… both for-profit and non-profit… and conclude that that’s where all the action is. But just as cause-related marketing can scale up, it can also scale down, thank you very much. Local causes that generate affinity and can make a compelling (and brief!) case for the need, can be successful. I see plenty of these local efforts all the time and expect to see more.

I predict that for the foreseeable future CRM will continue to trail the giants of sponsorship like the NFL. That’s because too many cause marketers still think it’s all about tears when in fact it’s all about eyeballs. The big guys understand that and NASCAR and its peers are much better at delivering eyeballs than their charity cousins.

Mostly, though I predict that cause-related marketing will continue as a viable tactic and in some cases a strategy for both companies and nonprofits. That’s because for all the naysayers and bad press in the last six months, cause-related marketing works.


More to the point, cause-related marketing works best with women in general, who control 80 percent of all household spending in the United States and Gen Y in particular, who on the balance seem to appreciate the practice.

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