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Bono on the Taint of Cause Marketing

All nonprofit fundraisers must make some accommodation with the issue of ‘tainted’ money.

It’s a question of morality. Is there money that you cannot accept because of the way it was generated or from whom it comes?

If you’re PETA do you take money from Purina or Hormel? If you’re MADD do you accept donations from beer and liquor companies? If you’re a liberal political action committee can you accept money from a conservative? Or, vice versa? If you’re the Sierra Club can you take money from Clorox (without having to fire state directors)?

It’s not just a matter of cashing checks. It’s what cashing those checks says to the rest of your supporters. Will taking money from certain individuals or entities stifle dissent or muzzle your voice? Can you retain your independence and still accept money from those you disagree with? Are you enabling what I’ve come to call ‘causewashing?’

For many nonprofits the indirect nature of the donation in cause marketing doesn’t make the questions any less tortuous. For some, cause marketing ‘taps into consumption guilt while at the same time feeding that excess.’

Every charity has to decide what kind of money is... for them... tainted. And it’s a different answer for one charity than it is for the next.

When I was at Children’s Miracle Network, for instance, we had the chance to do a deal with a beer company but we choose not to. But the Muscular Dystrophy Association has a relationship with MillerCoors.

Personally, if I were the executive director of a charity that filled some basic human need; shelter, food, clothing, maybe some kinds of health issues, there probably wouldn’t be any money that was ‘tainted.’

On the other hand, if I were the executive director of a symphony, I would likely turn down money from some donors whose gains were ill-gotten, illegal or openly disfavored.

And it seems that Bono agrees on that first point. The page above comes from Elle magazine, for which Bono served as the guest editor in March. He writes of the (RED) campaign and its funding for antiretroviral therapy for AIDS/HIV victims in Africa:

“These are tough times for a hard sell, hard to talk about shopping when everybody’s belt-tightening. Everyone is more conscious than ever about where they spend their hard-earned cash. (RED) is not asking you to flock to the stores for the sake of it. But if you find yourself browsing we are asking you to choose (RED) where you can—for the sake of those who can’t ask you themselves.”

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