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Seven Tips for Businesses… Large and Small… When Employing the Techniques of Cause Marketing

Faithful readers:

Waiting for your computer to return from the shop after a motherboard-ectomy is a little like waiting at the hospital for a baby to come…it can’t get here soon enough! But the computer doctors are telling me no later than Saturday!

In the meantime, I’m reprinting a column I wrote for the Salt Lake Enterprise, the local weekly business newspaper, and which was published Monday, March 16, 2009.


The headlines tell the story in brief:
  • “American Red Cross running low on corporate donations” –ABC4, Feb. 16, 2009
  • “Donations way down at charitable organizations” –KSL, Nov. 23, 2008
  • “Big players scale back charitable donations” –Wall Street Journal, Nov. 25, 2008
  • “Donations down; need up” –The Intelligencer, Nov. 30, 2008
The recession has been a perfect storm for nonprofits, battering them with great service needs at a time when donations are markedly lower.

And corporate donations, which most years range from 4-6 percent of the total U.S. charitable giving according to Giving USA, are a key slice of the pie for charities.

An opinion survey, published October 2008, of 1,033 small businesses conducted for the Chronicle of Philanthropy and underwritten by Advanta, found them enthusiastic for corporate giving, but economizing during the recession. No surprise there, of course. Businesses small and large are acutely affected by the recession, too.

What are business to do that understand the need and have a charitable impulse, but aren’t in a position to give much during these rocky times?

I routinely suggest clients consider cause marketing, which I define as “a relationship that bridges commerce and cause in ways that benefit both parties.”

Locally, Rocky Mountain Power has offered a $25 donation to Hogle Zoo when customers sign up for the Cool Keeper program. During the holidays, Jiffy Lube locations in Utah support the Utah Food Bank, offering discounted pricing to customers who bring donations of food items.

Cause marketing has been shown to boost sales, improve brand and increases customer loyalty. It can help a company stand out from competitors and enhance employee recruiting and retention. And it does several and sometimes all these things while helping a cause, even in a recession.

Cause marketing is a little like dark chocolate. It tastes good and it’s loaded with antioxidants, too.

A good deal of the success of cause marketing depends on the alignment between the company and the cause.

Paul Godfrey, a professor of strategy at the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University, compares corporate philanthropy… and, by extension, cause marketing… to an insurance policy. Godfrey has shown that the better a company’s philanthropic activities line up with values of the company’s stakeholders, the more highly the stakeholder group esteems your company.

Here then are seven tips to make good use of cause marketing in a way that benefits your company and the cause.

Pick an appropriate cause. Consider not only a cause’s appeal, but is capacity to support your effort. It may be that the best cause marketing fit for your business is a small charity.

Weigh the option of weaving cause marketing into your overall business strategy. General Mills’ Boxtops for Education campaign, which benefits tens of thousands of local schools nationwide, has gone on year-round for a dozen years. It’s a key part of their business model. Galactic Pizza in Minneapolis donates a portion of the proceeds from one of their pizzas to the local food bank. The promotion is printed right there on their menu.

Don’t ‘causewash.’ We all know what ‘greenwashing’ is. That’s when false or overstated claims are about the greenness of a product, service or company. Well you can causewash, too. But don’t do it. Your customers are savvy. And if they begin to distrust your intentions or the authenticity of your cause marketing, it will backfire on you.

Consider doing cause marketing for a small business in the developing world. You know what it’s like to finance a the startup or ongoing operations of your business. So too do millions of existing or budding entrepreneurs in the developing world. With an outfit like kiva.org or another microenterprise lender, your business and your customers would pick fellow entrepreneur(s) to support in the developing world and then follow their results.

Use the principles of world of mouth marketing. Make your cause marketing offer so compelling that people can’t help but talk about it. When you buy a pair of TOMS Shoes, the company gives away another pair to a child in the developing world. TOMS Shoes does precious little advertising. They don’t have to. Their word of mouth has been so good they’ve gotten exposure they couldn’t have purchased.

Give your cause marketing campaign a fitting amount of support. You don’t necessarily have to spend lots of money promoting your campaign. But you don have to support it with time and/or money.

Let’s say you own a fly-fishing shop and you’re offering $5 to Trout Unlimited when a customer buts $100 or more worth of gear. You could post that on your blog, website of Facebook page, put up a sign in front of the cash register, send out a press release. Remember that one of the greatest benefits of cause marketing is that it your business a new story to tell to customers, potential customers and the press. Take advantage of that.

Proceed cautiously if your business doesn’t face the consumer. The research is clear. Companies that advertise benefit the most from cause marketing. Now there is such a thing as B2B cause marketing that can benefit your B2B business. But to pull that off you probably need some help from a specialist.

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