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Cause Marketing with Direct Sellers

The direct selling industry in the United States… think Amway, Avon, Mary Kay… was a $28.33 billion business in 2009, although the more interesting number may be the 16.1 million salespeople involved in direct sales.

Philanthropically Avon and Mary Kay both are strongly… although not exclusively… involved with women’s issues.

So who does Amway support with its philanthropy and cause marketing? The short answer is children and children’s charities. But there’s more to it than that.

By itself Amway has 3 million Independent Business Owners (IBOs) and operations in 80 countries. Suffice it to say that just writing a check to the local children’s hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan where Amway is headquartered… which Amway’s founders have done in a big way… isn’t entirely satisfying for the IBO in Japan or Singapore or even Canada.

Amway Global, ironically the North American affiliate of Amway Corp., mainly spreads its charitable dollars to three causes: Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Easter Seals, and SOS Children’s Villages, which is building ‘villages’ for homeless and abandoned kids in Haiti.

This ad, from Newsweek magazine in August 2010, highlights Amway Global’s three-year million-dollar donation to Boys and Girls Club of America to build community gardens at clubs in seven cities. The campaign provides curriculum on gardening to the clubs and, as the gardens grow, fresh fruits and veggies to Club members.

If seven cities seems like a low number, consider that Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) is largely a sanctioning body for the 4,000 clubs. Almost all the clubs are individual 501(c)(3) charities. So BGCA has little leverage with individual clubs to participate in national cause marketing campaigns.

One thing I didn’t see in this campaign is a place for Amway’s IBOs to participate, and that’s a pity, and probably short-sighted. Amway people on the ground helping kids plant or teaching the curriculum would almost certainly be an asset to the local Clubs. They'd also increase the bond between Amway and the Clubs and give the IBOs a stake in the campaign.

The campaign also seems like a slam dunk for other sponsors like plant and garden fertilizer and soil companies like Bonnie Plants and Scotts Miracle Grow.

Co-branding like that spreads the risk, brings greater resources to the table, and broadens the appeal. Amway could easily remain the main sponsor while a Bonnie or Miracle Grow would be co-sponsors.

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