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When is Cause Marketing Not a Partnership?

In Zen Buddhism there is the notion of a koan, often a riddle, but sometimes a statement or question or dialogue that can’t be understood through strictly rational thought. A koan is meant to help train the mind to better access intuition, especially through meditation The most famous koan, says Wikipedia, might be ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’

Here’s one for cause marketers; ‘when is cause marketing not a partnership?’

The rational mind says that, of course, cause marketing is always a partnership. The riddle makes no sense. Except in cases where the sponsor is the cause there’s always at least two parties. Boom. That’s a partnership.

But meditate on it a little longer and you can see when cause marketing might not be a partnership. When one party benefits in gross disproportion to the other. Or when one party doesn’t work to make sure that the putative partner benefits to his or her satisfaction.

There’s no partnership in cause marketing unless all parties to the agreement feel fully benefited.

How do you achieve that?

It starts during the courtship between the parties. While there will be plenty of formal written language as the parties determine the scope of the agreement, it’s vital that the process also include less formal conversations. Put directly, people from both parties need to speak with each other.

For a true partnership to emerge a key portion of that dialogue must include the good faith expectation that both sides will and should benefit to their satisfaction. Everybody has to have their say. Neither side should endeavor to take advantage of the other. And, if it feels like the other party is trying to do so, you must register your dissatisfaction.

If, after going through the process, it feels like your would-be partner isn’t negotiating in good faith, you must be prepared to walk away from the partnership. This can be especially difficult for needy nonprofits. But it’s absolutely essential.

Finally, you must also try and put yourself in the shoes of the other party. Ask, “if roles were reversed, what would I want from this deal?’ The ability to understand what the other party wants and needs can be, in the words of Rick Blaine from the movie Casablanca, “the start of a beautiful friendship.”

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