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Cause Marketing When You’re the Avis of Your Niche

The rental car agency Avis, for years the perennial second banana to Hertz, used to promote itself with the tagline, “when you’re number two, you try harder.” Avis long since changed the slogan to “At Avis, We Try Harder.” The old tagline was advertising as a syllogism. It made an argument rather than just a declaration.

The nonprofit featured in the ad to the left, After School All Stars is in Avis’s position and maybe even further back than that. The big dogs of after school programs are Boys and Girls Clubs of America, a federation of more than 4,000 clubs serving about 4 million boys and girls, and 4-H, with 90,000 clubs and 6.5 million members.

After School All Stars is an after-school and summer program in 450 schools in 13 cities across the United States, with an especially strong showing in Chicago. It was founded by Arnold Schwarznegger in 1992 as the Inner-City Games Foundation and subsequently broadened its focus to include arts and academics in addition to health and fitness. It serves 78,000 kids and has a budget of $30 million.

Schwarznegger and his wife Maria Shriver remain honorary co-chairs of the board. The board chairman is Paul Wachter, founder and CEO of Main Street Advisors. Other board members include Henry Cisneros, who was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton administration, and Randy Freer, president of the Fox Sports Network. They even have an advisory boardmember from the Avis Budget Group!

Celebrity support comes from all those NFL players in the ad above, plus NBA players Kobe Bryant and Chris Bosh, and rapper/actor Common. Actor Dwayne Johnson is listed on their website. Michael Eisner is in their annual report.

They’ve done sponsorship deals with Hummer, PowerBar, Vitaminwater, Audemars Piguet North America, Walmart and others.

With 71% of its budget coming from governmental sources… which are always subject to changing political realties… After School All Stars must want to broaden its fundraising base. But how do they position the nonprofit against Boys and Girls Clubs and 4-H, both of which serve 50 times more kids and offer more programming choices?

One approach they could take is to be more targeted. Boys and Girls Clubs have a facility to pay for. They have to keep the lights on and pay for the trash to be collected. After School All Stars are mainly based in schools, so because their overhead is lower they can spend more money per child.

Both 4-H and Boys and Girls Clubs are highly decentralized and diffuse; it’s probably the only way they can serve so many kids. But After School All Stars is less so, meaning it can almost certainly act and react faster to changing events. If Boys and Girls Clubs spot a developing trend, their program people can put something together, test it and get it to the field in a year or two. After School All Stars can probably react after a few phone calls or emails. Their smaller size and more centralized structure means they can be more nimble.

If a sponsor wanted to do something specific with Boys and Girls Clubs, the national organization can only really negotiate on its own behalf. That is, it can build new programs and ask the clubs to participate. But because Boys and Girls Clubs are a confederation, individual clubs can always decline opportunities that aren’t in their contract with national. So pouring rights for Coke, one the sponsors at the national level, is probably not possible at all 4,000 clubs. In terms of sponsorship, After School All Stars could certainly build sponsorships that touched all the 13 cities at once.

It’s not all whipped cream and frosting for After School All Stars. No stand-alone facilities means some kinds of sponsorships aren’t possible. And 13 cities is really too few even for the football player promotion above to be as effective as it could be.

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