Cause-Related Marketing Advice to a Nonprofit Startup

[Blogger's Note: What follows is a letter I received from a startup nonprofit asking for advice on how to get an HIV/AIDS charity off the ground along with my response.]

I am a Nurse that Dares to Care; my name is McKenzie English, LVN. Located in Riverside, California I just recently returned from Nigeria, where I was taken to two villages to hear of their concerns for the villagers and children. Then I got married. The faith based organization was started November, 2007. African American Initiatives for Africa Forgotten Ones, the website is is registered in Nigeria as NPO, here as sole prop. Have to get NPO for American tax exemption. So far not one sponsors, all out of my pocket for expenses. It is concerning 115 children that are unable to go to school or continue their education do to poverty in their environment.

Also, as a nurse the spread of Hiv/Aids and not information is getting to the rural areas. Traditional medicine men are telling men to have young virgin girls to rid themselves of Hiv. I have doctor on staff we have office set up in Nigeria. And learning as I go about promoting this in America, any suggestions this is how I found your name Mr. Paul Jones.

A humble Servant,
McKenzie English, Lvn, Mt
President/ CEO
AAIAF Children Sponsorship

Hi McKenzie:

Thanks for your note. I appreciate the chance to learn more about your cause and the need in Nigeria.

By now I think we all understand, to at least some degree, the devastation that HIV/AIDS has wreaked on Africa, especially the children.

First off, I should say that I really don’t have any particular experience with sponsorship organizations.

If that’s where the AAIAF is headed the best suggestion I can offer is that you study the most notable child sponsorship outfits out there and learn from them. Maybe you can find some kind of mentor who is either still at one of those charities or who has experience working there and listen to everything they’ll tell you.

You already know that your best bet is to get your 501(c)(3). The chief advantage 501(c)(3) status confers is tax deductibility for your donors. It also conveys a sense of trust to donors and would-be donors.

Until the approval comes through from the IRS, there are organizations out there called “fiscal sponsors” that might be helpful. They are existing 501(c)(3)s that will accept donations on behalf of your cause and offer your donors a tax deduction while you await approval from the IRS. Fiscal sponsors usually perform this (and other) services for a fee. Sometimes local community foundations will take on this role. Riverside, California has a community foundation called The Community Foundation.
One of your first orders of business is to put together a board. Find people like you who are passionate about your cause. You’ll need the board for at least 5 reasons:
  1. In a nonprofit setting a board is a legal requirement and takes the place of “shareholders.”

  2. The board is also responsible for governance of your nonprofit.

  3. Especially in this early stage the board can help shoulder the load you must be feeling.

  4. I don’t recommend it, but you can require that board members donate to the cause as a condition of membership.

  5. Whether or not you and your board choose to require board donations as a condition of membership, a dedicated board can and should help raise money for the AAIAF.
In terms of what to do first, I suggest you raise some money. One approach that may be a good match for you and your cause at this time are “Houseparties.” A house party is a party given with the express purpose of fundraising for causes or projects. The settings are intimate and when it comes time to ask for money it’s typically low key and certainly expected.

One of the best resources I know about house parties comes from author Morrie Warshawski, author of “The Fundraising Houseparty: How to Party With a Purpose and Raise Money for Your Cause.”

His book is short, easy to digest, and helpful. I can recommend it without reservation.

Now some people will fault me for saying that you need to raise money first. Others would say that you need to figure out your mission, your purpose, how you’re going to fulfill those two things and how you’re going to effectively communicate that to your various constituencies, etc.

But right now you’re doing all this by yourself, which is unsustainable. Moreover, the mere act of putting together your 501(C)(3) application and raising money via houseparties in the way that Warshawski suggests will force you to do much of this foundational work.

Also, two heads (or three or four, etc) are better than one. Once you get the organization’s initial startup behind you and have a board and some staff onboard, you can certainly revise things like mission and purpose statements.

It seems to me that your real goal is to do enough that you can attract the help that you need, but not so much that you burn yourself out and empty your personal bank account. That doesn’t serve those kids in Nigeria or you.

There’s another factor here at work that we consultants call “Founder's Syndrome.” It implies organizations that are unable to thrive after their founder leaves because she or he didn’t do the work necessary to secure broader support. Among your responsibilities as a founder is to make sure that whenever the day comes for you to leave, that the organization can continue to flourish.

Now, on to the subject of my blog, namely, cause-related marketing. Cause-related marketing is a way to raise unrestricted funds for your cause while promoting a company’s products or services. How that takes place is limited only by human imagination.
My blog has highlighted plenty of examples over the last 18 months or so. But be assured that even though the cause-related marketing campaigns you see most often tend to involve large nonprofits and larger for-profits, that smaller scale CRM campaigns take place all the time.

At the top of this post is a sales flier from a small grocery chain that illustrates two different cause-related marketing campaigns; one very large and national, one small and local.

The national campaign is for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Buy a paper Shamrock and a $1 goes to the MDA. Also, a percentage of the sales frozen food sold by the chain during March goes to the MDA.

But note the cause-related marketing promotion at the very bottom of the picture with the images of the soldiers. When people buy a 20lb box of frozen chicken at just one of their locations, they split the proceeds with the Utah National Guard Charitable Trust.

In other words, you don’t have to be a super large charity with years of experience and a well-known brand in order to successfully carry out a cause-related marketing campaign. All you really need is affinity, the ability to explain your cause in a compelling fashion, and the right sort of corporate partner.

Best wishes,

Paul Jones

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