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The Secret Sauce of Cause-Related Marketing

I have put off this post for a very long time, mostly because when I’ll tell clients and others the Secret Sauce of breakout cause-related marketing I’m more likely to get a look of doubt than a nod of understanding. Kinda like the look on my face when I read that Disney’s High School Musical brand has passed the $1 billion mark in operating profits.

Here’s what prompts this post. People approach me all the time asking, “how is it that Children’s Miracle Network manages to raise more than $30 million every year with something as simple as a paper icon campaign. Or, “how does Susan G. Komen keep finding new sponsors when we can’t seem to find even one? Or, “explain to me how St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital raised more than $8 million from Chilis and their customers when fundraising campaigns at the casual dining chains have traditionally been death for other charities?

I tell them the Secret Sauce to breakout cause-related marketing and then I get the look.

Most people just don’t believe the Secret Sauce of cause-related marketing is so simple. And it is relatively simple to explain. It’s just really hard to do.

This post is mainly directed to nonprofits, their management, staff, and board members.

For you agencies and sponsors, there’s something for you here, too, but only if the fundraising success of the campaign is important to you.

There are just two ingredients in the Secret Sauce of Cause-Related Marketing. (If you’re reading this in a French-speaking region there’s a third ingredient; beurre. Hah!)

Have I teased this long enough? The two ingredients to the Secret Sauce of cause-related marketing are:
  1. A cause’s internal organization.
  2. A cause’s appeal.
That’s it? You exclaim! Yup. that’s it.

Let me explain starting at the start. Successful cause-related marketing means that you have be ready to put someone on an airplane at a moment’s notice so they can go pitch a sponsor who had an hour open in his schedule. And you buy the tickets knowing full well that the sponsor might say no to the proposal. It means that you have to organize the cause-related marketing department so that it’s more like an advertising agency and less like a charity. It means that you can’t just task your office assistant “who’s good with words” to work up a proposal for Proctor & Gamble. It means holding people accountable for the results of the campaigns they oversee. It means to some degree you have to have a sales culture. Doing effective cause-related marketing requires a seriousness of purpose. It requires a budget and it demands the support of the board and the rest of the staff. If your charity can’t manage all that then you’re probably stuck with bush-league cause-related marketing until you can.

I’ve written before about the necessity of affinity in cause-related marketing. But the word affinity describes a current condition more than a potential condition. What I’m talking about is the capacity a cause has to win over people and institutions.

That’s important because sometimes a cause-related marketing actually reveals affinity in a cause that was previously unknown.

An illustration might help.

Bobby Shriver cut his cause-related marketing teeth at Special Olympics, the charity his mother founded in 1962. Special Olympics has scads of affinity that has been built up over the last 45 years.

But when Shriver started (Red) … which raises money to fight AIDS, TB, and malaria mainly in Africa… the cause itself had little built-in affinity. That’s not to say that AIDS doesn’t have affinity, only that American’s affinity for AIDS victims hadn’t been proven to extend to those outside the United States. Now Shriver did have Bono added to the many advantages conferred by his own Kennedy bloodlines, but that’s the affinity born of celebrity, which is unreliable by nature.

So while (Red) didn’t have much existing affinity, it did have enormous potential affinity. And Shriver and Bono were able to convince the Gap, American Express, Apple, Motorola and others to come on board based only on that potential affinity.

So ask yourself, if my charity doesn’t have much existing affinity, does it have potential affinity?
  • Can you explain your mission in 10 words or less?
  • When you explain it to your companion on an airplane, does she get warm, fuzzy feelings? Does she find the story so remarkable that she passes it on to others unbidden?
  • Do people blog about your cause?
  • Do they buy your branded merchandise? When you send out press releases do you get called back?

These are some of the earmarks of affinity.

Organization and affinity are the ingredients of the Secret Sauce of cause-related marketing. But they still have to be combined in the proper proportions make the Secret Sauce. Maybe the board has given you a good budget for prospecting. But if you have an overly-complicated mission, your cause-related marketing campaigns may never breakout.

That’s the breaks, kid.

And don’t give me that look!


Anonymous said…
Great post, Paul! A lot of wisdom here.

Anonymous said…
Great advice!

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