Are Funds from Cause Marketing Tarnished?

All nonprofit leaders must make some accommodation with the issue of ‘tarnished' or tainted money.

It’s a question of morality, that is, right and wrong. Is there money that you cannot accept because of the way it was generated or from whom it comes?

If you’re PETA can you take money from Purina or Hormel? If you’re MADD can you accept donations from beer and liquor companies? If you’re a liberal political action committee can you accept money from the Koch brothers? Or, conversely, if you're a conservative think tank, could you take money from George Soros? If you’re the Sierra Club can you take money from Clorox?

It’s not just a matter of cashing checks. It’s what cashing those checks says to the rest of your supporters. Will taking money from certain individuals or entities stifle dissent or muzzle your voice? Can you retain your independence and still accept money from those you disagree with? Are you enabling ‘causewashing?’

For many nonprofits the indirect nature of the donation in cause marketing doesn’t make the questions any less difficult. For some, cause marketing ‘taps into consumption guilt while at the same time feeding that excess.’

Every charity has to decide what kind of money is... for them... tarnished. It sounds like moral relativism, but it’s a different answer for one charity than it is for another.

When I was at Children’s Miracle Network, for instance, we had the chance to do a deal with a beer company and choose not to. But the Muscular Dystrophy Association has a relationship with MillerCoors.

Personally, if I were the executive director of a charity that filled some basic human need; shelter, food, clothing, maybe some kinds of health issues, there probably wouldn’t be any money that was ‘tarnished.’

And it seems that on that count musician and philanthropist Bono agrees. The page above comes from Elle magazine, for which Bono served as the guest editor in March 2008. He writes of the (RED) campaign and its funding for antiretroviral therapy for AIDS/HIV victims in Africa:

"These are tough times for a hard sell, hard to talk about shopping when everybody’s belt-tightening. Everyone is more conscious than ever about where they spend their hard-earned cash. (RED) is not asking you to flock to the stores for the sake of it. But if you find yourself browsing we are asking you to choose (RED) where you can—for the sake of those who can’t ask you themselves.”