My Cause Marketing Wish List to the President and the New Congress

Today is the first Federal election in the United States since 2008. I encourage all my American readers to exercise their franchise and vote.

It's too soon to say how the election will fair for the two major parties in the United States, but this much is clear; come Wednesday the President will yet be Barack Obama.

So on this first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, here’s my cause marketing wish list for President Obama and the new Congress, expressed in an open letter and originally posted on Feb 5, 2009.

Dear President Obama:

You have much to do in the opening days of your administration. But I hope you’ll carve out a little bit of your prodigious energy to think for a moment about a cause marketing, which I define as: “a relationship that bridges cause and commerce in ways that benefit both parties.”

Like many others, I have wishes and hopes for your administration. As a cause marketer, three stand out.

1). Please make cause marketing donations tax deductible. Doing so would almost certainly boost consumer spending.

This has been proposed by Professors Anup Malani and M. Todd Henderson, both at the University of Chicago Law School in your home state of Illinois.

As I wrote in my blog about the proposal:
“It’s hard to imagine getting some kind of tax receipt when you commission a piece of music from Cantilena Music and a donation of $825 goes to a hearing cause, much less trying to figure out how many cartons of Yoplait you consumed in year with $.10 per lid going to Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.”
Now it’s clear to me how that could work. Up until 2007 noncash donations of $500 or less didn’t require that you submit an appraisal with your tax return. I suppose, strictly speaking, you needed a receipt. But it was all rather pro forma so long as you didn’t claim a huge deduction.

So if you took a bunch of clothes and some other household items (an old stereo, for instance) to the local Salvation Army Thrift Store, so long as you claimed a deduction of less than $500, the IRS was good. The rules were made more stringent beginning with the 2008 tax year.

I propose changing the tax law so that you could you could deduct, oh, $100 or even $250 via what Malani and Henderson call ‘consumer charity’ without having to collect and keep 1000 $0.10 receipts.

How would this boost the economy?

If history, experience and research is any guide, there would be a measurable increase in cause marketing and a corresponding rise in consumer spending. Which would help the U.S. economy. And by now we all know that 70 percent of the economy is driven by American consumer spending.

Plus, as Malani and Henderson point out, disfavoring indirect charitable deductions is demonstrably unfair.

2). I hope you’ll ask the First Lady and the First Daughters, Malia and Sasha, to participate publicly in cause marketing.

For instance, Sasha and Malia could be shown taking part in their school’s Campbell’s label or Boxtops for Education program or Michelle could be photographed wearing clothes or jewelry with a cause marketing component.

But here’s the kicker, whatever cause marketing the First Family illustrates, it has to be identified as such in White House press office materials. As in, “Malia and Sasha Obama drop off Boxtops for Education in the barrel in the front office of Sidwell Friends Private School. Sidwell donates all proceeds from the campaign to a neighboring school.”

Or, “At a private White House Dinner for key State Department officials on Feb 14, Michelle Obama wears a brown silk Cartier love bracelet, a Valentine’s gift from the President. $100 from the sale of the bracelet benefits SOS Children’s Villages.

3). Consider convening a conference on the confluence of commerce and cause with the intent to make policy recommendations.

Call it C3 and hold it in some Midwestern city like Chicago or Minneapolis so that cause marketers from both coasts can come. It should be about more than transactional cause marketing certainly. But that topic shouldn’t be ignored either. Just don’t make it another yawner about corporate social responsibility, which tend to take on an ‘eat your vegetables’ flavor.

Give it a green tint, but not green glasses. And force real recommendations out those impaneled. But don’t let the academics dominate. A lot of academics are like old generals; always fighting the last war.

After you’ve read this I hope you’ll hand it to a key staffer with a short note that reads, “Get this done.” You won’t have to think about it again.

Please give my regards to the First Lady, who I understand celebrated her 45th birthday a few weeks back!

Warm regards,

Paul Jones, President
Alden Keene & Associates